Indie games marketing 101 pt. 1 – targeting your audience

It’s highly possible that you found this article because you’re trying to market your upcoming indie game, but have little to no budget, or you may be looking for some ideas and tips to enhance your marketing process. It’s a beginning of a series which main purpose is to shed some light on what can be done in order to make your title more visible and how to make people buy your game. Let’s start with one of the most important aspects of marketing – selecting your key audience.

Why selecting your key audience should be done before your game’s production even begins

There’s a bunch of stuff and a specific mindset you should have before you start coding.

I usually enjoy games made by independent developers, because they are quite clearly a labour of love. It’s often easy to see how much effort devs put into making their game as good as possible. However, such games often don’t sell a lot of copies and the reason is pretty simple – they are made in order to convey a vision of a developer and, if you wanna earn money by selling the title, such approach may sometimes help (I’ll talk about it later using an example), but if you wanna make a living of it, your game should be made to sell, to achieve commercial success, not to necessarily fully realize your vision. It may be bitter, but it’s true. Most huge AAA studios rarely release wacky yet possibly great titles, because their nice mainstream games may provide entertainment just as well as an artsy indie platformer about daily struggles of living in a hut in the vast jungles of Congo would and it’s simply easier to tell your potential audience about what the game is and it’s probably going to be more viable on the market. Figuring out what to do may be strictly a marketing decision if we follow the model of 4Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, placement)

If you happen to work on a game, ask yourself a simple question – how can I describe my game in a simple sentence and can I draw comparison between my title and other games? Let’s use a bunch of examples:

Shin Megami Tensei IV – Pokemon, but hard and with demons.

Guilty Gear – A crazily fast and complex anime 2D (2,5D) fighting game with unique cancelling mechanics.

The Binding of Isaac – Bullet hell oldschool Zelda-like dungeon crawler with themes of religion and parental abuse,

Broken Ranks – A cross platform dark fantasy MMORPG in the style of Baldur’s Gate.

And so on. Notice the „but”, „with”, „in the style” – this is where you take an already tested formula and make it unique with your twists.

Another important thing is to decide what type of players your game will be made for. There are 3 main types of players:

  • casual/hypercasual – they don’t care much about complex mechanics, and they prefer their games to not be execution heavy; they play mostly to chill; example games: Candy Crush, Harvest Moon,
  • midcore – they don’t mind having a fair challenge and more complex mechanics, but you probably don’t want to go overboard with complexity and difficulty; they play mostly for fun; example games: Pokemon Sword/Shield, Half Life 2,
  • hardcore – they enjoy complex, hard and engaging games; they don’t mind having their ass beaten, if they feel like they were fairly challenged (sometimes they don’t even care if the challenge is fair or not); they play for the challenge; example games: Dark Souls, Tekken 7, Shin Megami Tensei IV.
Shin Megami Tensei IV | Nintendo 3DS | GameStop
This gem, surprisingly, has a lot in common with Pokemon. SMT games came earlier to the market than Pokemon, though. source: gamestop.com

The more precisely you can describe the core gameplay of your game, the easier you will be able to convey what the game is going to be about, thus you will be easily able to convince your potential buyers to purchase it. Such a one-liner also helps with sticking to your vision, in the management sense.

Who are your potential buyers, though?

How to find your target audience?

There’s a bunch of ways to find people, who’ll be probably the most interested in buying your game (I know that your game can also be distributed in a free to play/freemium model, but for the sake of this article I’ll refer to any case of obtaining a copy of your game as a purchase). Ideally, you’d hire a marketing/business research agency which would deliver the best possible answer. I strongly encourage to hire such a company if you can afford it. However, if it’s not the case, try finding out what your competitors do and who buys their games. You will be able to easily accomplish doing so by visiting their social media profiles and compiling a list (the bigger, the better) of people engaging with their content and to each you can assign:

  • estimated age,
  • sex,
  • possible interests, including games they like,
  • where do they live,
  • what language do they speak,
  • what their behaviour looks like, are they optimistic, short-tempered and so on,
  • their financial status.
Top 5 Modern Metroidvania Games
It would make sense for the developers of Axiom Verge to think that their target audience would be similar to other metroidvania audiences, because their game is kind of generic in this case (not a bad thing!). source: gameskinny.com

Of course, mind personal data protection laws and don’t violate them.

Let’s quickly go through these categories and why they are important:

  • estimated age – you will be able to craft PPC (pay per click) ad campaigns and you will also be able to specify what your game’s monetization model should look like (pay to play vs free to play, in-game purchases, ads or a mixed model); there’s also a high possibility that some content will be more relevant to younger audiences, f.e. follow ups to pop culture seem to be big among 20-35 year olds and 13-16 year olds enjoy game streams,
  • sex – it’s no secret that marketing communication targeted towards men looks different than one targeted towards women; also, ad campaigns optimization,
  • possible interests, including games they like – ad campaigns optimization, researching influencers who play games similar to yours, finding relevant info regarding their common interests which you can later refer to; also, some design choices may follow, like which platform should your game be available on, should it be casual, midcore or hardcore and so on,
  • where do they live/what language do they speak – I’ve decided to put these two together, because they are similar; you will be able to judge where to display your ads (if there’s a lot of Russians, why not post your ads on Vkontakte?) and what language your game and marketing communication should feature (and make these ads in Russian there), if it’s in your scope of possibilities; people tend to react stronger when spoken to in their native language and you should utilize this, if possible,
  • what their behaviour looks like – it’s possible that you’ll get a little taste of what’s to come in your social media and you’ll easily spot what kind of stuff they don’t like in your competitors’ games; this could lead to figuring out some design choices, which would make your game stand out from the crowd and could add some personality to it, if implemented properly,
  • their financial status – monetization model.

After gathering such info, you will be left with a pretty good picure of who is going to play your game and what you should do to deliver a satisfying experience and to earn some money. You can also easily judge if there even exists a market for your game – even though there’s a lively community focused around arena shooters, making one in order to make money isn’t the best possible idea, since there’s very little players interested in arena shooters, and they tend to stick to well established titles (Xonotic is a great example of a community driven arena shooter. On the other hand, Quake Champions shows why making an arena shooter is not a great business decision). Don’t be afraid to ditch a possible project, if your main goal is to earn money.

Kup TOXIKK Steam Key EUROPE taniej! | ENEBA
Toxikk is an example of a well targeted game with barely any playerbase. I love their slogan, though, because it hits right where it should. source: eneba.com

There’s also another useful tool you can create with such data.

Persona (not a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff, but a powerful marketing tool)

Take data gathered in your research, find common characteristics, figure out the medium age of your user and combine it all into a nonexistent person – a persona, which is an archetypal player and customer. There’s a few good reasons to use a persona:

  • honing your marketing communication – you can easily judge if your persona would respond to your content and you could test multiple types of content and styles of communication (on focus groups, or during AB tests),
  • contextualizing your possible player helps with marketing content creation,
  • you will be able to easily showcase who your potential buyer would be to other team members and stakeholders such as investors,
  • finding a similar person among your friends and using the person as a benchmark for some game design choices or marketing communication (this could be misleading, though),
  • figuring out what would be fitting for both the players and you (I’m talking about appropriate gameplay mechanics and monetization strategy).

Let’s say that you’re making an online mahjong for mobile devices for the Chinese market and your market research showed that mostly men aged between 35 and 50 are interested. A persona would look something like this:

  • Name and surname: Xi Peng
  • Age: 43,
  • Sex: male,
  • Lives in: Shenzhen, China
  • Language: Mandarin,
  • Does he play video games: rarely,
  • Hobbies: woodwork, cooking, loves his job.
Pin on Makeup Morgue
You can even take a photo of a person in order to emphasize the persona even stronger. source: pinterest.com

By this we can figure out that Xi Peng probably doesn’t use DouYin (Chinese TikTok), so we should focus on other apps when it comes to ads and our social media presence. He’s a simple man, who enjoys his work and likes to spend time in a simple way, in order to ease the stress of his daily live. He has a job, so he’ll be able to make purchases in our F2P mobile online mahjong, thus it’d probably be a better idea to focus on in-app purchases, than on ads and so on.

There’s a lot you can do with personas and they can be really helpful when designing your games.

Conclusion

It’s nice to have an idea for a game, but even before the game’s made (if it’s purpose is to earn money) you need to consider who the game will be made for. It will help with both marketing and development of your title. There’s a bunch of characteristics which are relevant in this case. Gather and compile them in order to figure out who will most likely play the game and make sure that it will fulfill relevant needs of the target audience. You can use a persona in order to contextualize your core audience, to personify it.

Let’s say that you are knee deep in the development process and you haven’t yet done such research. Is your game destined to fail? Of course not, but it’s probably less likely to achieve success in the market. You can still do such research and figure out what to do with your game and whether it needs any changes.

Last but not least – make sure that your game is good.

You can follow me on Twitter or add me on LinkedIn if you wanna talk about game marketing. Unfortunately, I can’t make a newsletter or a subscription box, because the wordpress plan which I use doesn’t allow me to do so, so make sure to add and follow me if you want to be up to date with the newest blog posts!

Indie games marketing 101 pt. 2 – F2P distribution model – CLICK HERE TO READ

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