Of course, part of being an independent developer isn't just making what you want to make -- it's being able to sell it, too. Indie devs are responsible for their own marketing and PR, so we handed that responsibility off to the team as well. Here's what they learned:
Marketing is harder than it looks. Developers frequently make disparaging remarks about the "dark arts" of marketing, but having been there and tried it ourselves, it is really more difficult than we initially thought.
Twitter is massively useful -- if you make it personal. Remember that social media really is all about human interaction. Using bots to add users to your Twitter account isn't useful; it increases your followers but does not necessarily help your engagement with people. Click-throughs count, and bots won't help you with that. The team members who carefully curated their followers and built personal relationships with people got much better engagement. This certainly takes time, but is well worth it. But what do we mean when we say it was worth it? I don't believe we generated many direct sales from our work on Twitter, but it did enable us to create a real buzz around the game, which was picked up by many key players. This sense of buzz added a lot of credibility to our early press outreach.
Analytics are important. By using tools like Google Analytics and link-tracking services such as bit.ly, the team could understand which activity was generating the most hits to our blog. Once you find that out, just do more of it. For example, some forums picked up on our "undercover development" angle. There was some real strength of feeling, and this in turn generated traffic and interest in our game. So we helped stoke this controversy a little.
Facebook is massive. No, really. It sounds obvious, but the team was so excited by Twitter and Pinterest that they didn't do anything to promote the Facebook page. However, Facebook still generated more traffic than pretty much all the other activity put together, and was still our second-biggest driver of traffic
Journalists need stories. They have space to fill with interesting and engaging content. Therefore, if you make your story interesting, you are more likely to get their attention. Think about their readership, and what they might find interesting. For us, we created our story around our "undercover development." At the point of starting the project, it was true: Our bosses knew we were doing something iOS related, but had no idea what. So we played on this to create a more interesting story. A large studio moving into iOS development isn't unique or interesting -- a rogue element within a studio developing their own game has much more of an edge.
Keep up the momentum. Our team activity had to stop for three months when we moved into contract negotiation with a publisher, which ultimately undid much of their hard work in building an audience. I am sure there are people out there who believed for a while that Kumo Lumo was vaporware.
After about eight weeks, the game was made and the marketing was in progress. The team unveiled the game to the executives, who had not been previously involved. The team presented everything they had learned, which was warmly received.
This is when some luck, good timing, and the team's excellent decisions paid off: The game was finished just before one of our regular American business trips. Our business development executives set up a meeting with Chillingo, and they agreed that we would show them Kumo Lumo. Chillingo really liked it! They understood the visual direction and the style of game and felt it had great commercial promise. Of course, they had some feedback on how to make the game better, and this is what the team has been working on for the past few months.
We have often been asked why we used a publisher when we could have self-published. For us the answer was simple. We felt that we had met a partner who was as passionate about the game as we were and who wanted to share with us their vast knowledge and experience; it just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. It's been a real joy working with them.
We would consider the results of our indie experiment a success; we learned that giving people autonomy, creative freedom, and trust is motivating, and motivating and trusting experienced and knowledgeable developers delivers great results. Also, we learned that social media marketing is worthwhile, but only if you do it the right way -- no shortcuts! And probably more than anything, trust your vision. Make the game you believe in, and make it fun! If you take nothing more from indie games, take this: An original idea and a purity of vision will make your game feel fresh and alive.