Learning as much about your game's audience as possible is a vital piece of the success of your game
If you're like the teams I've worked with, you're a lean mean, self-publishing development team of talented developers and designers (if you're super indie, this might all fall on one super hero of a developer). With that being said, you might not have someone on your team that has extensive Marketing/PR experience. This means that while you're working on the next best thing since I Am Bread, your chances of success won't be nearly as high as they could be. With a little knowledge of your audience, you can better focus your marketing efforts and begin to spread game awareness more efficiently and more importantly, save time and money. In this article, I'm going to assume that you already have a website, social accounts (FB & Twitter) and Google Analytics. If that does not sound like you, please don't leave yet; there still might be some juicy tips to be had.
Without further ado, let's learn about our players!
One of the most important aspects of learning more about your players is making sure your analytics is setup properly and is recording data that you find valuable. I personally prefer using Google Analytics for reviewing data. It's free and if you ever get stuck, there's plenty of documentation to help resolve any of your issues. Some things to look out for when setting up/reviewing your Google Analytics:
This data is incredibly valuable (especially if your game supports languages other than English). If this is not setup, you can learn how to do this here (link goes straight to Google documentation). With demographics and interests reporting enabled, you're now gathering valuable data about your current players, potential players and randos.
All the data in the world is nothing without KPIs (key performance indicators). For example, some of the events I track are: clicks on images, external link clicks, internal link clicks and when users play/pause/finish YouTube videos.
When tracking which images are gathering the most clicks, I can combine this data with demographics and interests to see which types of people prefer which types of images. For example, I was able to see that users ages 35 - 44 seemed to like screenshots that focused on beautiful landscapes that provoked exploration vs. users ages 25 - 34 who preferred images showing more than one player on the screen and boss battles.
This allowed me to A/B test pages with different images and see which types of players like which images. In doing this, I'm now able to funnel traffic to pages that are better suited for the visitors.
Some of goals I like to track are: clicks to Steam page, clicks to Humble store and newsletter sign ups.
When you combine the demographic and interests reporting with events and goals, you are setting yourself up to learn not only what types of gamers are more interested in your game, but you're also learning what types of players aren't very interested in your game. You can also better understand which websites send the best traffic and if your game supports multiple languages, you can better understand which countries have the best audience for your game.
A helpful video on how to setup various events and goals in Google Analytics can be found here. It's a few years old. However, the content is still relevant.
Surveys don't have to be time consuming if you don't want them to be. There are plenty of ways that you can conduct surveys. You can do them in-person, through Skype or even through email. Personally, I like to do them through email because I can always review results when I have the time. When conducting surveys, make sure that you're asking questions that will give you valuable answers. For example, I like to start by asking some simple questions like "what's your age?" and "Where are you from?" This gives me demographic data.
When gathering psychographic data, I might ask something like "Why do you play video games?" or "What do you like about our game?" These questions help me sort players into segments in the persona creation process. The best article I've ever read about creating and understanding personas can be found here. If you don't already regularly visit Moz's blog, do yourself a favor and bookmark them now. If you're stuck on what to ask during your surveys, Indie Game Girl has an excellent article with some questions to get you going.
When conducting surveys in the past, I've reached out to players via Steam discussions and Reddit. However, you can reach out to players wherever you believe they are. This includes Craigslist. If you don't have the extra cash for incentives for the surveys, simply ask for help. For the most part, gamers are really good people and they want to see your game succeed as much as you do.
When it comes to how many surveys you need to do, it really depends. The general rule is that when you're able to predict answers correctly, you're good to go.
When you've gathered data from survey results, you can create a spreadsheet to better absorb the data you've received. For example, you can group users together by age, sex or whatever you want to group them by and then compare the answers to see if there are any trends. If you're able to find trends, you can then compare this data to your Google Analytics data to see if you can validate the found trends.
Monitoring analytics data and conducting surveys is fun and all, but being a creeper is where it's at. This really requires that you either A.) have already released your game in some capacity (early access or demo is fine) or B.) have some sort of buzz surrounding your upcoming title. For example, this could be a published article by the press.
If A and B don't apply to you, you can still get your creep on, you just start creeping on similar games.
What I mean by being a creeper is that you should read as much as you can. Read comments from articles by the press, read feedback left on Steam and listen to player criticism on forums. It might be hard to start (especially if there is a lot of negative comments). However, the more you do it, the better you should get at skimming past bad comments and getting to the good stuff.
What I mean by this, is that while players can be great people and positively contribute in many online communities, they can also be absolutely brutal when talking about your game. You should take some criticism with a grain of salt though. For example, if someone were to say "game x sucks d**k", this can mean many things. It can mean that the player is frustrated with a certain level, they could be having a bad day, maybe their mother didn't buy them that pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards they were promised, or your game might just suck d**k. However, more times than not, this is not the case.
Those types of comments are the types that you should learn to skip. They should be skipped until the player returns and leaves a more specific and actionable comment. When creeping on comment sections and forums, you should start to see trends. These can be good things about your game, or they could shed light on a certain aspect of your game that should be re-evaluated. Also, whenever you have an opportunity to quickly resolve someone's issues with your game, you should jump at the opportunity to do so. This will not only help that player out (and possibly gain their undying love), you are also showing other community members that you care.
At this point, you deserve a pat on the back. You have taken actionable steps to learn more about the people that love your games. In doing this, you should have a better understanding of what types of content will do better in your blog and social media posts. You should also have a better understanding of where your marketing dollars should be spent. For example, if Facebook is driving the highest quality traffic to your website (highly unlikely), then it might be a good time to create some Facebook ads focused on website conversions.
If you notice that Reddit is referring good quality traffic, but you're not very active (or not at all) on the website, it might be a good time to get a subreddit going and be active with the community.
If you notice that a few Twitch users are referring good traffic, it might be good to reach out to those streamers and give them some extra keys for a giveaway.
You should have a better overall understanding of who your audience is and where your game is going. With the chatterings of an indiepocalypse, this could be the leg up that propels your game into the ever-shrinking category of successful indie games.