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Building Buzz for Indie Games


August 26, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

You must track everything

Don't just start pumping out information willy-nilly: you need to set goals. One of these is simply the fact that you need people to be consistently following your updates.

It goes without saying that you're already tracking your monthly income and expenses. By the way, if you don't do this then I am 100% certain that your business will fail.

You shouldn't neglect cash, so you also shouldn't neglect your monthly (or, in fact, daily) traffic stats. Traffic is the lifeblood of online marketing. Don't know how to track traffic? It's simple: use Google Analytics. It's the first thing indie developers should do when they start to take online sales seriously.

"We realized that we were way out of date and doing the e-commerce thing really badly. It's now possible to track traffic though a web site and optimize the site to result in maximum purchases. We launched a project (codenamed 'Glengarry') to metricate our site with Google Analytics and test two new Uplink sites to see which generated the best results." - Mark Morris, Introversion Software

You need to know how, why, when, and where people are coming from to see your content, as well as what they do with it when they arrive. Don't be intimidated by it -- I'm not a programmer or web developer but I've figured out quite a lot of it. Here's a great article by Cliffski which shows some of the advanced stuff you can do.

Web design doesn't seem to matter too much -- as long as your site is visually attractive and does its job, you don't need to spend years developing expensive Flash screens. There's loads of ways of getting an acceptable-looking website, and you don't need to pay for all of them.

I think web design is such a known quantity that there's no need to go into it here. When you're making decisions, go with common sense, but let Analytics be the litmus test. If your site isn't functioning, and by functioning I mean getting people to sign up to your list, post comments, follow you on Twitter etc., then you are failing.

Off you go!

You've started development; you've put the first content on your blog and social networking sites; you've come up with some innovative channels to get your news out and you're pumping news down them but care about your game less than they care about the average length of their nasal hair.

What happens now?

The first thing you need to do is reach out to a wider audience of gamers and get them interested in your concept and development process.

Stage 1: The Announcement

Big, well-known companies tend to do a teaser announcement first: they'll start a website with a stupid countdown or mysterious image. I've not tried this, but I'd hazard a pretty strong guess that this won't work unless you already have an established fan base, or your teaser is so strong in its own right that people are interested in it.

You'll probably be announcing your game when you have some content to show. I would suggest doing this as early as you can, with your first attractive pieces of concept art. This is going to be very difficult: most news sources won't pick up on you unless your concept art is stunning and your concept is unbelievable. A lot of sites won't cover you at all until you have a video.

Don't be put off by this though: get out there and get talking to people. Make a good first impression, but don't be so scared of putting out content that you sit alone in your tiny room sucking your thumb forever.

How to write a press release

There are many, many resources on this out there: it's mostly common sense. Try to communicate your point simply. Easier said than done, I find.

Here's an example of a good indie press release.

You need to trade off anything original about your game, anything noteworthy about you that you've done in the past, or just anything interesting vaguely associated with you that you can think of.

I once saw a talk by slightly-irritating-but-hugely-successful marketing guru Terry McBride where he was talking about strategies for marketing independent musicians. They had a guy on stage with him as a guinea pig: a singer-songwriter who used a laptop to perform live. This guy was fairly unremarkable, but it transpired during the course of their conversation that he had lost a laptop with some unfinished songs on it while on tour.

Of course, the marketing guys seized on this and spun it out endlessly into ideas of competitions to find the laptop, a concept album based on the idea, getting fans to write songs based on the concept, etc. You can take almost anything and turn it into a natty PR hook: if you're a creative person or you have creatives in your team, this is the time to put them to work.

One thing though: I can't for the life remember the name of the musician because all the marketing guys were wanking on about strategy so much. There's a moral there. </beard stroke>

Wait, how do I "announce" something?

Announcing something doesn't just mean putting it on your blog so your mum can read it (although obviously you should do this as your mum needs to keep informed): you need to build a PR list first.

Building a PR list is an incredibly dull but vitally necessary part of this process. Here are the methods I used to build ours:

Bethesda's press section

Bethesda do a lot of PR work for their games, and helpfully list all the places where they got reviews and previews. If they can do it, why can't you?

Individual magazines and websites

You'll need to find all the editorial contacts for English-speaking magazines that you can: I'd suggest Googling these individually. If that doesn't work, try going to a newsagent and looking inside the front cover of the magazine.

I'm not joking. Try the editor and news editor first: also if you know the magazine and think that a particular journalist will be interested in your game, find their email address. If you can't find it, phone up the publisher and ask for the number of the magazine. Then phone up the magazine and ask for the email of the journalist. Be pleasant, pushy and persistent.

Blogs

I follow pretty much every gaming blog I can find for our weekly games podcast Visiting the Village, and this is something I'd recommend doing if you're an indie developer. Seeing what other people are doing is really useful as it gives you more "market awareness".

Once you do get coverage, track it to see how effective it is. I would say, however, that you should try every single site you can get your hands on -- the wider you spread the info, the better.

Aggregation services

Blue's News and GamesPress are two great places to post -- they will take almost anything (because they are both fantastic and this is how news services should work).

You need to keep working on your PR list even when you think it's finished. Building your PR list should be the thing you do when you can't think of anything else to do. Do it on your laptop while watching TV. Do it on the train. Just keep doing it. It's boring. Keep doing it.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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