Definitive Guide To Indie Video Game Marketing
You have a video game (or a game related product or service) and now you want the gaming community to learn about it, and probably buy it.
The problem is, as an indie game maker, you have limited time and resources at your disposal to be able to market your games effectively. As a game maker, you probably find it a challenge to balance both game development and game marketing in parallel. Plus you’re a game maker, not a marketer, so you cross your fingers and hope that your game will speak for itself. All you have to do it launch it. After the launch, streamers like PewDiePie, Ninja and Shroud will be playing your game and you’ll probably somewhere on a terrasse in Cabo drinking something fruity you can’t pronounce and basking in your game’s success. This is the dream right?
Buuuttt….. well you know what the “but” is.
The truth is that marketing your indie game is a part of the game development process and it’s work. In fact, it’s hard work. In our experience, the game makers we speak with focus almost exclusively on the development of their games, while neglecting the marketing side of things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. People become great at building a talent through specialization. The problem is that if nobody is working on the marketing side of things, what results is that the majority of indie games (even some of the best games we’ve ever seen) go largely unnoticed.
If you’re only making games for you to play, having 100 downloads isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, if you want your games played by an active gaming community, you need to take marketing seriously.
Indie Game Developers Acknowledge They Need To Do More
Below are a few quotes from game makers we’ve interviewed on our indie game development blog about their wish to do more from a game marketing standpoint. When we ask game developers what their approach to game marketing is, we often get the following types of answers:
Game: And All Will Cry Beware:
“Honestly, I’m probably not the best person to ask about marketing. I’ve been doing this for years, and And All Would Cry Beware is probably the first game I’ve made that could reasonably be called a financial success (and this is largely due to the low budget and quick development time). Most of my marketing amounts to having a social media presence where I post a lot of animated gifs of my games, and talk about game design in general. The only advice I can really give is have something to show off as soon as you can, show stuff off often, and have a place where people can go to wishlist your game as soon as you can, so that if a gif you post takes off, you can convert that excitement into potential future-sales.”
Developer: Battenberg Software
Game: The Penguin Factory
“I’m gonna be honest… I’m pretty bad at this. It’s probably because my background is in programming. I like programming so when I’ve programmed one game and released it, I start programming another. Of course I have a website, Twitter and Facebook but I don’t do anything special with them. That’s not to say I don’t see the value in marketing – the platform you are releasing on can do so much but there is value to be had in getting word about your game out there. But in all honesty I probably need someone to do this for me.”
Game: Journey of Haha
“So, between working a full-time job, juggling my personal life, and doing the game development, *something* has to give. And marketing/distribution is that something. Regrettably, this is an area I’ve almost fully neglected. I just lack the time and resources to do proper marketing. All I’ve been able to do are some tweets and Reddit posts, most of which have never gotten that much attention. This is something I do want to work on and improve in the future.”
Game: Voxel Bot
“I focus more on developing games than on marketing. Doing more marketing is something I need to work on. I do read more and more articles about marketing but it is not coming naturally to me as I am an introvert.”
Developer: Cristian Piatti
Game: Houdini Redux
“Marketing is our biggest gap, since Houdini Redux is our first released game we are a little disoriented.”
Game: Summer Islands
“The eternal dilemma with indie game and marketing. I have to admit we could do even more in this direction.”
Developer: Colin Towle
Game: Data Defense
“I’ve seen how hard it is to market a game and build buzz. Honestly, I should have started making gifs and videos of my game years ago but building awareness is a very time consuming task to do and not something I like to do or excel in. I don’t have the means to outsource marketing either so this is definitely a place where I can improve upon.”
Developer: Battenberg Software
Game: The Penguin Factory
“Although I was happy that my first game made some money, I remember being secretly disappointed that it wasn’t more. And my second game made less than my first. But I never gave up and after 13 games I have had some success. I suppose that comes down to loving what you do, which really helps. In my experience a lot of indie developers put everything into their first release, and when they realize it won’t provide them with regular income, they walk away.”
IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH MARKETING, YOU’RE NOT ALONE
So if you’re an indie game developer and you’re struggling with marketing, the quotes above should help you quickly realize that you are not alone. Marketing is an entirely different beast that requires a totally different skill set that many indie game developers struggle to master.
SUCCESS REQUIRES YOU TO THINK CREATIVELY WITH YOUR CAMPAIGN AND EVEN MORE CREATIVELY WITH YOUR BUDGET
So how have indie game makers found success for their games? Well they usually either do one of three things. First, they either strengthen their inner marketer and take their job marketing their games as seriously as they take their job developing their games. However, in our experience, few game makers succeed with this transition because they don’t share the same genuine interest in marketing that they do with game development. Game makers often view game marketing as a necessary evil. But that attitude towards marketing won’t build the best outreach campaigns and won’t sustain good marketing work over the long run. For these indie game developers, their interest in is game making. Therefore, while they may enjoy a few days behind the wheel playing marketer, it’s not something they are genuinely interested in, or gifted at, and their enthusiasm quickly diminishes and they often revert back to programming games and ignoring marketing.
For others it comes more naturally. Some game developers don’t mind changing responsibilities from game developer to game marketer. However, game makers will need to be comfortable with the fact that game marketing takes time (often a lot of time). And more time spent on marketing, means less time spent on game making.
The last option, is that game makers get help with marketing. They realize their weakness and they get other people who are genuinely interested in marketing to handle that side of things, while they handle the game making part. This allows them to focus on developing their games, while other people focus on growing them. Contrary to popular belief, game marketing is often not very expensive (see this plan that starts at $79), and if you can use your budget wisely you can usually see a decent Return On Investment (ROI) from your ad spends. The idea behind indie game marketing is to invest money, not waste money.
HOW TO GET US / CAN / UK / AUS VIEWS FOR .01 CENT OR LESS?
At Foundation we have exposure plans that start at $79 that can help get some good exposure for your game. For example, our blog marketing package recently generated almost 600 interview views in less than 6 hours. This equals .13 cents / view for virtually all US audience views.
However, unlike traditional ads that come down once your budget runs out, we find that for the majority of indie game makers, who don’t have as deep of pockets as bigger studios do, the trick is to gain exposure using marketing strategies that ensure you get the best bang for your buck. In our experience it’s best for indie game makers to focus on getting exposure that doesn’t come down once the ad budget is spent. You want exposure to trickle in from various platforms and outlets over the long run. For example, the game we featured on our blog received over 850 views in 3 days bringing the cost / view down to .09 cents / view. As months go by, and this blog post stays up, our search engine optimized post will gradually climb in ranking and like most posts on our site, the cost / view will gradually decrease to .01 / view or less. This is because unlike other ad platforms, your ad doesn’t look like an ad, and it doesn’t’ come down once your budget runs out. This allows you to create multiple streams of long term awareness to your game.
Just because you’re not successful on your game’s launch day that doesn’t mean your game won’t be a success. You need to focus on building games that will have a long shelf life. For example, we recently interviewed Flump Studios about their work on their portfolio of indie games. At one point, they were able to make a full time living making indie games earning thousands of dollars a month. But their game launches were not always a success, Paul from Flump Studios told our audience that “launch success doesn’t mean much anymore. Most of my games have bombed on their launch but have ended up doing really well 6 months or a year later when they hit some of the bigger sales. With all the games on the market most consumers are probably waiting for a good sale before committing to a purchase.”
GAME MARKETING DOESN’T NEED TO BE EXPENSIVE. PLAN ADS THAT DON’T LOOK LIKE ADS AND ENSURE THEY NEVER COME DOWN.
Building multiple streams of awareness doesn’t need to be expensive and it’s something you can plan on growing over time. Best of all, a lot of that growth can end up being organic growth that the paid growth helped to kickstart. For instance, the blog interview we referenced above, did well over a short period of time. However, once the initial traffic boost died down, it continued growing and building awareness on different channels. For example, some people who read the interview ended up sharing the content on other social channels. While secondary sharing may seem accidental or heavily dependent on luck, in fact it’s not. We optimize the chances of content being shared, by making the posts community focused.
For instance, we always include other game makers, game studios or game related products in the post. We find that by talking about others our clients increase their chances of having their game content shared. The truth is, if you’re an indie, you can’t engage in marketing like a AAA studio can. You probably don’t have a strong enough franchise or a big enough built-in audience to be all about “me, me, me”.
In our experience game makers only survive if they think about their marketing as more about “us, us us”. This is why we always get our clients to talk about other people. For example the interview above was liked and retweeted on Twitter by people with a combined audience size of 21,424 people.
Some of those people were people mentioned in the post, or by people who know people mentioned in the post. People love being shouted out on high quality content. Everybody likes to have their hard work and efforts recognized.
This interest caused the interview to be picked up on YCombinator where it started trending. Once it started trending it got pushed out to premium content aggregators, content sharing sites and bookmarking apps like NetVibes, Feedly, Flipboard, Mix, NewsBlur and many others. Essentially, those sites filter the “best of the web” so the idea is to try to get trending on a platform like Reddit, YouTube, Techcrunch or any social media or news site, so then the content aggregator sites will start to show your story. Once you get picked up by one aggregator, you’ll generally end up getting picked up by many.
Being featured on these sites does many things. First, in many cases it generates new backlinks to your website which helps with your search engine optimization efforts. Secondly, it puts your game in front of game influencers. These Twitch streamers, YouTuber’s, Bloggers and Instagramers are always on the lookout for the next cool game. It’s possible, after getting additional exposure, that someone will mention you in a tweet, share your post on FB, or reach out to you for a game access code so they can make a walk-through video about your game. However, none of this will happen unless you get that initial push of exposure. You need to keep your game in front of people to keep these opportunities alive.
If you’re sitting in front of a computer all day programming your game then you’re not actively creating these opportunities and you’re greatly reducing the chances that your game will get media attention.
Again, this is all part of our video game marketing package. We know the platforms were it’s easier to start trending and we focus on getting likes, comments and upvotes on those platforms first, with a focus on getting some “spill over” onto other platforms as well.
YOUTUBE / TWITCH: THE POWER STREAMERS HAVE IS “NUTS”
Another area we focus heavily on is the streaming, “let’s play” or “game walk-through” space. This is a hugely important part of the game marketing experience. Video influencers have a huge impact on the success of indie games. In a recent example, we interviewed other indie game makers about their hilarious indie game entitled “Totally Reliable Delivery Service”. Now, this team has a little bit more backing, but their approach to marketing is gaining them millions in additional followers through YouTube & Twitch channels. Shortly after we published the interview on our blog, we noticed the number of “let’s play” videos on YouTube explode. Notice the game has now seen over 2 million views on YouTube in under a week.
We’ve asked other game developers what their experiences have been on these platforms and they have told us the following:
Developer: Sean Young
“In my experience, getting Youtubers and Twitch Streamers to cover my games is the only marketing that matters. The amount of power that these content creators have is really nuts! I think amazing games can go under the radar and be a financial failure if no one covers them, so it is important to try to get the attention of any content creators you can.” (see game play screenshot for “Littlewood” below which has amassed around 130,000 views in 6 months).
Game: Games By Mo
“YouTube ads have been the main focus”
Developer: We’re Five Games
Game: Totally Reliable Delivery Service
“It’s exciting and overwhelming to see so many people uploading videos and streaming gameplay.” (see the screenshot below which shows million of views being accumulated)
Developer: Handelabra Games
Game: One Deck Dungeon Digital
“Our Twitch channel is probably our biggest direct “marketing” effort. We have a dedicated stream team of both Handelabra team members, but also community members who play our games and are happy to do it online for people to watch.”
DON’T IGNORE STREAMING
Again, at Foundat.io/n we focus a huge amount of our energies on video streaming, game play, and video Influencer marketing. Our clients tell us time and time again that although this approach can be a bit more expensive upfront, if your game catches on, many more gamers will upload let’s play videos for free and the entire campaign will balloon, leading your cost per view and cost per customer acquisition way down.
Again, best of all, the content that is created on these platforms usually stays up. So even after your budget is spent, these videos will continue to work for you for years to come. Buying access to steaming influencers is not an expense, it’s an investment.
PLATFORMS (STEAM, PS4, XBOX ETC)
Another major area we see many indie game makers have success is piggybacking off the built-in audience of existing channels and platforms. These platforms have built in game playing audiences that are constantly looking for new titles. Getting your game released on these platforms helps you acquire more game players without having to go through the hassle of looking for the players yourself. And while we don’t recommend only focusing on the marketing efforts of these platforms (because they might not favor showing your game high in their game store list), they nevertheless do provide a huge selling opportunity for indie game makers.
We asked game developers how important being released on multiple platforms is for them. Here are their responses:
Developer: Eden Industries
Game: Citizens of Space
“Having a publisher (Atlus for Citizens of Earth and then Sega for Citizens of Space) was a big part of our marketing strategy in terms of leveraging their name-brand recognition and being able to directly reach all of their existing fans, in addition to relying on their marketing specialists who do marketing and promotional activities for a living! While we try to do our own home-grown strategies too, like engaging with people on social media, we of course don’t have the reach of those companies (yet!) so having their helping hand has been great.”
Developer: Star Vault Games
Game: Mortal Online
“There’s been a lot of talk about the 30% cut that steam takes but when you release your game on steam and see the number of visits it generates (at least for us) there is no question steam is the best way to promote your game.”
SOCIAL MEDIA: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, REDDIT ETC
In our experience social media channels have worked wonders to help raise awareness about the existence of a game. They tend to be a little bit less effective as direct selling platforms. That said, they do tend to work well as platforms that allow you to drive brand awareness, develop lasting relationships, increase trailer views and increase page traffic. Not only have we had this experience ourselves, but game makers we’ve interviewed have also shared this opinion. For example, we chatted with Star Vault Games (the makers of Mortal Online which has over 500,000 people sign up to play the game) about their experiences on various social media channels and their experiences mirror many of our client’s experiences. This is what they had to say about the various social media channels available to them.
“I made a lot of gifs for twitter, we were in almost all #screenshotsaturday for all full year. We also paid a little bit of money to show 10 tweets and the trailer on release as a marketed tweet, this worked very well and we see a fair amount of traffic from twitter.”
“We paid to promote a couple of Instagram movies, brings in a lot of views and likes but not very much traffic. A streamer recently added an Instagram story about our game and that single post brought almost 200 visitors to our site. So it’s good that we are on Instagram I’m just not sure it’s worth the money to promote there.”
“We paid to promote the Facebook page back in 2018 or so with our new trailer. The page ended up in a bot network somewhere. This means that bots started liking it making other bots like it and so it went on. We instantly got over 20K likes on the page, great success right? Nope. Since most of our likes on the page is someones bot-network any post we make is just shown to bots. The page is pretty much dead.”
“During the release of the game someone posted our trailer on /r/games. I wrote a comment in the thread saying I would respond to questions about the game. I spent the whole night doing this, responding to every question. This brought 6000 viewers to the trailer! We also tried a Reddit ads, they seem to work OK the cost per click is very low.”
Marketing isn’t something you should be doing once your game is complete. Indie game marketing is something you should be doing all of the time. It should be built in as part of your daily routine. The theme we see time and time again, is that indie video game makers who get help with their marketing tend to do better than those that don’t. They either have the capacity to do this work in-house with a specialized marketing department or they outsource the work to people like us who specialize in video game marketing. Our video game marketing packages start at $79. If you’re interested in learning more you can visit our game marketing page here.