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July 17, 2019
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What Does Marketing Mean for Indie Developers?

by Josh Bycer on 03/27/19 11:23:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

One of the major areas where indie developers tend to fail at is marketing and social media. We’ve talked about this before, but it doesn’t matter how good your game is if no one has ever heard of you. With each year the market changes, and so does what you should be thinking about when it comes to how to present your first game.

The Basics:

Thankfully the basic steps in marketing your game remain the same. At absolute minimum you need some kind of landing page for your game or company. There should also be a press kit page that gives people essential information like contact emails, screenshots, etc. Rami Ismail’s press kit generator is still free to use, and there is no excuse not to have a press page.

The next step is to have some kind of social media presence: Facebook group, Instagram, Twitch, YouTube, etc. Whatever you prefer to use is fine, but you need to make use of something. Be careful about stretching yourself too thin — if it’s hard for you to post to one site constantly, maintaining five will be difficult.

When it comes to the basics there is one simple rule — PEOPLE NEED TO BE ABLE TO FIND YOU. Having just a steam forum or store listing for your game is not enough. I’ve lost count of the number of times when I have to sleuth out a developer’s contact info to get in touch with them.

While I may be crazy enough to do that, a lot of people will just give up and move to the next developer on their list. The importance of social media is to start building up a profile for you and your game on the internet. With that said, the next question is another area where devs tend to fail on — when to start marketing.

When to Start:

A common issue developers run into is getting started when marketing their game. “I’m busy making the game, how am I supposed to market it as well?” is commonly said. The optimal goal is to do enough marketing that things begin to take off without further input. The most successful games regardless of the market and platform will generate buzz simply based on any information being released. This positive feedback loop has been an essential part of many successes.

I continue to use this screenshot to describe marketing for new developers

The problem is obvious — how do you get your game to that point? Simply put, you cannot wait on doing marketing for your game.

I’ve spoken to developers who literally waited until a week before launch to start doing any PR for their title. Waiting that long to do marketing usually ends up with a failed game.

The point about marketing is that you are trying to build hype and buzz around your game long before it’s even out. You want people to start talking about your game and getting excited for it as early as possible. The second you have something that you’re proud of for your game, start talking about it and showing it to people.

Again, Redhook Games with the Darkest Dungeon spent six months preparing for their kickstarter, and up to a year before putting out trailers, talking to fans, and getting people excited about it.

Now I’m about to give out some tough love to any developers reading this. If you’re sitting there right now getting ready to argue with me about how they were a special case or you’re too busy to do that, you can shut up right now. There is no excuse anymore with regards to marketing — I have seen too many good games just get buried because no one did any marketing for them.

Continuing with that point, I want to talk about the other myth when it comes to marketing.

The Influencer Illusion:

The past few years has seen the growth of “influencer culture” when it comes to videogames and marketing. The thought is that you turn over your marketing/marketing budget to getting Pewdiepie or Markplier or any other big name to look at your game and that’s your marketing plan.

I’ve lost count of the number of developers who say things along the lines of,”All I did was email 30 youtubers and no one got back to me,” or “My game would have succeeded if only X covered it.”

As I said in the video linked here, I don’t feel influencers have as much marketing power as people would like to believe. The whole point of influencer culture is that it’s a business, and they want to earn money more than providing support.

There is a chicken or the egg quandary to this — did a game succeed because an influencer covered them, or did an influencer cover a game because it already succeeded/received a huge commission? You can see this on YouTube and Twitch and how everyone will play the latest hot game — Apex Legends, Fortnite, Resident Evil 2, all around the same time.

If someone like Ninja or Dr. Disrespect had to choose between playing Fortnite, or playing a brand new indie game with less than 100 reviews, we all know what game they’re going to play.

This is why you cannot rely solely on someone else doing the marketing work for you. Further up I talked about how marketing’s role is to continue to build hype and awareness for your game. The only way big name people are going to cover your game is if it’s already known to them.

I believe some developers are angry with me when I play their games on my channel on stream, and I’m not ranting and raving about the game or evangelizing it to my followers. I cannot stress this enough, if you think that only having a Youtuber or streamer play your game is enough marketing, then you are going to fail.

The Matter of Marketing:

At the end of the day you cannot rely on outside factors to sell your game for you. There is a greater discussion to be had regarding the roles stores play in this, but that will have to wait. Someone needs to be focused on marketing your game — whether that’s you or someone you hire is beside the point.

Success breeds success in this industry, and while everyone dreams of a game that markets itself, that never happens by circumstance.


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