Marketing Your Game as an Indie Dev
Marketing. The thing big publishers spend millions and millions of dollars on. And the thing, indie developers usually struggle with. And so did I. Because of that I researched and read quite a bit about marketing a game as an indie dev and tried to implement a lot into my own “marketing strategy”. So, I thought why not share my experience with the world.
Marketing Your Game as an Indie Dev – What I found out so far
I will go through some of the more useful points I found during my research on the topic. Also, I will add my own experience. But please make up your own opinion on each point and see, if it works for you. This list surely is not complete, so you should check more sources on that matter.
First Point: Make a Good Game
Keep in mind, that you should have a decent game in the first place. The most expensive marketing cannot really help you to write black numbers if your game is just not good. We saw this time and time again with big publishers. They poured millions into marketing campaigns, just to see all those dollars go down the toilet because the game itself was crap. Furthermore, if your game is good and fun, you already have one important marketing point covered: word of mouth.
Word of Mouth
I would consider word of mouth a very important part of any marketing campaign for an independent developer. Nothing sells a game as effective as someone telling a friend, that it is good. But you don’t really have any influence concerning this point, except making a good game.
Making blogs or vlogs about the development process is a point, that was mentioned constantly. The suggestions range from daily to quarter-yearly blog posts. Either via a blogging service, your website, on YouTube or on whatever platform is convenient for you. This ongoing process of blogging has one main goal: to build up an audience. And, you then can announce your game or your upcoming games to that audience. Now, in theory, this sounds like a great way for publicity without high costs. But in my view, there are a couple of caveats attached to it.
First of all, it can be very time-consuming to write or record daily, or weekly blogs/vlogs. Especially if you want to write or record them in a language, that is not your mother tongue. Even more so because not every day or even every week something interesting happens. And this brings me to the next point. If you can’t catch your audiences attention, then they probably won’t bother following you. And in this day and age, it is very hard to capture the attention of someone. Ask basically every full-time YouTuber about it or the dying mainstream media.
Blogs and Vlogs are not for everyone
Another thing to consider is, that if you want to entertain your audience with blog posts, you have to make them interesting. And in order to make them interesting, you probably have to write about interesting stuff happening during the development of your game, which can consist of information, that may be better held somewhat secret until it is too late for rival companies to take advantage of that information. For example, if you have a great idea you want to implement in your game later down the line and write about it on your blog post, then the possibility exists, that someone else sees that idea and implements it before you and thus carries off the laurels.
So while on paper making a blog or a vlog sounds great and easy, I found, that it is actually very hard. And it is a lot of work to effectively capture the attention of an audience via regularly writing blog posts.
Make a good trailer
Since the trailer is the figurehead of your game, try to put some effort into a good trailer. Use good music, good sound, good visuals and maybe hire someone professional for the voice over, etc. Try to make the trailer approximately the same quality as your game.
This point I find very important. Especially for independent developers. The trailer is the first thing a potential customer will have a look at when he or she is somewhat interested in your game. If the trailer is bad, chances are, that this potential customer won’t buy your game. But if the trailer is interesting, funny or creative, then the potential customer may become a real customer. A good trailer also can help spread the word about your game, since people may share a nice or funny trailer with a friend. So make sure, that you make a good quality trailer.
Make nice screenshots
For screenshots, almost the same applies as for trailers. The only thing is, that you probably cannot put as much creative effort into a single screenshot, as you can put into a trailer. But make sure that the screenshots have a high enough resolution. And they should show some interesting scenes from your game. Also, keep the specifics of different stores in mind. For example, on Steam, you see up to four additional screenshots at first glance (depending on how many trailers you have). So make the first four screenshots as diverse and interesting as you can for this specific store.
Put a Press Release somewhere on Your Website
You should put together some kind of press kit for journalists. If they have to write everything by themselves, chances are, that they just move on to the next indie game, that has something prepared for them. Most of the time, the question for a journalist is: “How many clicks can I generate per hour of work”?
So, if they have to work a lot to put together an article about a game, that probably won’t get a whole lot of traffic anyway, they more often than not will decide to pass on it. But, if everything is already neatly prepared so that the journalist can more or less copy paste the most important parts, they may choose to quickly put something together and publish it for a couple clicks. If you look for a nice guide on how to put together a press kit, check out this post from Indie Game Girl.
Reach out to Influencers
Personally, I never had much luck with influencers on YouTube, Twitch or any other platform. And understandably so, since they too are, much like journalists, concerned with how many views they get per hour of work. So more often than not they are not pioneers when it comes to new indie games. They are the ones who pick them up when the game already got enough traction to create them some views. However, since it is not so time-consuming to reach out to them, there is no harm in trying.
Make Discounts from time to time
Another important point, which so far I couldn’t find on any list, is making discounts. In my opinion, it is a great tool for independent developers to increase visibility and reach more people. Also, people are more likely to buy and check out your game, if it is cheaper. Thus more people will engage with your game and potentially write a review and recommend it (if it is good). Yes, you get less money per customer, if you put a huge discount on your game, but marketing costs money (or time) either way. So, in the end, it boils down to the same thing.
Make a low barrier to entry
Another good way to reach more players is to lower the barrier to entry. There are different ways to do that. The most popular is to make a game free-to-play. But of course, free-to-play games come with a whole bunch of strings attached. But there are other ways to lower the barrier. You can release a demo version of your game for example. Or you can make very generous return policies. There are different approaches and not every approach works for every game. But if players have an easy way to check out your game for free, it is more likely for it to gain traction (again, if it is a good game).
Steam Curator Connect
Another way is to find curators via the Steam Curator Connect program. This is a safe way to distribute your keys to curators, who then can promote your game if they choose to do so.
On this note, I also want to add, that you should always be wary of fraud when it comes to giving away keys via e-mail. You will get a lot of requests from “influencers”, “press” or “streamers”. They will tell you, that they want to cover your great game on their huge channel/website. Make sure, that you do your diligence in researching them. Most of them just want to grab some free keys and resell them on key-seller sites like G2A, Kinguin and the like.
So I hope this list was informative for you. If it was, then let me know in the comments section below. Also, If you have any suggestions or experiences you want to share, I would be happy to read them.
If you are interested in more posts like this, check out this section of my website.
To learn more about Game Development I can recommend The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Second Edition by Jesse Schell. If you are interested, you can follow the affiliate link to also support this website.