Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 1 – figuring out the game itself and its audience
Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 2 – F2P distribution model
Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 3 – P2P distribution model
OK, let’s say that you conducted your marketing research, decided what kind of a game you’d like to make and you’ve already decided on the monetization model. You’re pretty confident that you got everything nailed and you started working on the title. Graphic assets are made, first prototype builds of your game are made and you think that everything is on the right track and you can finally tell people about your game. Getting across may be a tad bit difficult, though. In this post in the Indie Games Marketing 101 series I’ll showcase and discuss main ways of letting people know about your games. I will talk about each and every way of increasing your brand awareness in detail in separate posts, so you can kind of consider this article to be a listicle with a short description and pros and cons of each tool with tips at the end.
This article doesn’t talk about sales yet. It’s about making people know about your game and that’s the focus of it, so keep it in mind. An article about sales will be posted in the future.
PR and Press Activities
PR (Public Relations) can be defined as an entirety of actions which an entity takes in order to influence or create an opinion about a brand among its stakeholders (I tended not to call recipients of these actions as „the public”, because PR often isn’t directed towards a general clientele). There are many different subsets of PR – EB (employer branding), CSR (corporate social responsibility), communications crisis management and so on. For the sake of this article, though, I’ll focus mostly on brand awareness (which I’ll call BA from now on).
BA in the grander scheme means taking any activities which will inform people about a brand. However, pretty much all of the actions described in this article may be considered, rightfully so, as a part of increasing BA. Therefore, I’ll focus on publishing bodies of text, audio or video which are to be released to the public via your own website (not including social media profiles) and/or press in order to make people know about your game – stuff like blog posts, press releases, public statements and so on. Firstly, you need to figure out what are the main purposes of increasing BA:
- making people know about your game/studio,
- showing people what you’ve done and what you are going to do,
- making fans of similar titles aware that there’s a new game coming and they should pay attention to it,
- increasing your social media following,
- geting wishlists and preorders (if you’re already there – if not, that’s ok for the time being).
Secondly, you need to figure out what the content will be – devlogs and official statements are two of the most obvious things which can be done and while making them can be time consuming, they often provide a great field for talking to your game’s fans who, hopefully, will become your future clients. These are pretty safe and traditional, but if you have some more resources, you can get more creative and you can make a flash mob, an ARG (augmented reality game), webcomics featuring characters from your game… There are many ways to get your brand across to people and, as long as media and content are appropriate for your title (a flash mob for an idle clicker probably isn’t the best thing to do, but if you want to make me choke on my words, feel free to do so) and for your audience, it’s probably a good idea to do something like that.
Why did I decide to split BA and press activities? The reason is simple – in conventional BA you publish the content, while in case of the press, a separate entity does it and there’s no guarantee that content regarding your game will be published. There’s a bunch of things you need to do if you want to get info about your game (maybe) posted on a blog or a gaming news site:
- you need to prepare a press kit of sorts – a short prospect talking about the game, screenshots (make sure to include your branding on them!), logos, video clips of your game, maybe even a game build for journalists (make sure it represents well what the game is going to be and that it’s good and not overly buggy; such builds are usually sent right before the release in order to get reviews, so you don’t need to rush it),
- articles themselves – bloggers usually are way more passionate and less lazy than journalists, so a prospect or a build would be usually enough to get info about your game published; I could spend the next few paragraphs bitching about video games journalists, but that’s just a fact – they are often very keen to republishing or repurposing someone else’s work as their own.
There are many gaming outlets and even more bloggers and journalists, so you need to decide who to write and to gather their contact info. The best thing, when it comes to press, would be cooperating with a PR agency, as such agencies usually are well networked with journalists and can get your message across as well as possible. They can also write an article for you, or rewrite yours in order to make it nicer to read for the recipient. Two main downsides are the cost and the fact that they may not fully understand what your game is and how to communicate it properly.
- an ability to provide extensive bodies of work to your audience,
- many different ways on how to increase your BA,
- it is possible to utilize such activities and content to enhance both inbound (people stumble upon your stuff themselves) and outbound (you reach out to people with your stuff) marketing,
- very versatile and may serve a multitude of objectives.
- a lot of work, which will or may include copywriting, image edition, 3D rendering, video edition, proofreading and so on,
- it can be hard to measure the exact KPIs, especially in case of working with press,
- you risk your content not getting published (when working with press),
- can be costly, if you decide to engage PR agencies or if you decide to promote your content, basically creating ads, or if you decide to conduct more outlandish PR stunts.
Social Media Presence
Social media can be defined as any website in which a user is able to create and publicly share content, however, for the purpose of this article, we’ll mostly talk about well-established social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit and so on. The main purposes of creating and SoMe profiles is:
- to make people find your game,
- to turn them into your fans,
- to gain sales leads,
- to gain more info about your audience
- to gather feedback on the product from your future clientele
- to expand your studio’s portfolio of assets and online presence in case of future contract jobs or an acquisition made by a 3rd party.
You don’t necessarily have to be on all SoMe sites. It really depends on who our audience is. If you make a game which is marketed towards 40+ males, you’d pretty much waste your time and resources if you decided to start a TikTok profile. On the other hand, if you want to target your game towards Russians, you probably should consider creating a Vkontakte profile. How to decide which SoMe profiles you should start? Consider where your audience is and how much work needs to be done in order to create valuable and good content on each platform.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ll talk more about each and every aspect of communications in separate posts, but there’s a handful of things which need to be addressed when it comes to SoMe:
- make your content look great,
- balance the amount of work with the quality and format of content,
- you need to figure out when to post (in case of Facebook posting once or twice weekly will do, but, from what I learned when using TikTok, you pretty much need to publish stuff daily there to not fall out of the viewing algorithms – a post about my experiences will appear soon),
- include your game’s branding in your content,
- make your posts worthwhile for your present and potential audience – make them pretty, extremely fun and engaging, make them bear valuable and relevant information,
- keep in mind that people in SoMe usually are there to chill, so make your content digestible,
- livestreams are usually a great way to drive traffic and engage your audience,
- talk to members of your audience, as you will reinforce their feelings towards the game and you will show that you care about them – nurture your community.
I’ll talk about these things more in the future. The most important thing is how to get your first fans (I’ll focus on Facebook due to a handful of useful features and because this platform is what I mostly manage at work). Remember that it’s most likely going to be a long and arduous process and it’s easy to get discouraged when you see that stuff isn’t going as quickly as you wanted to.
- Invite your Facebook friends, especially those who might be interested in your game, to like your page.
- Share your content in relevant FB groups with people playing games like yours in order to drive some traffic to your FB page.
- (optionally) Buy FB ads and optimize them (both within analytics and content of your ads) with keeping page likes and brand recognition as main goals.
- you can limit your costs,
- SoMe presence is a must nowadays,
- you can reach your fans easily,
- there are many ways to express your game and your ideas,
- you can get a lot of good feedback over time.
- it’s time and work consuming,
- it can be emotionally taxing,
- growing a fanbase is usually either costly or slow.
Addendum: I purposefully used the „social media presence” term instead of „social media marketing”, as we’re talking more about your game’s public visage rather than converting leads into sales. I believe this term is more adequate in this case, although SMP may be considered a part of SMM, so keep that in mind.
Influencers can be defined as people who are present on social media and streaming platforms, who do their content and who gain a following, while also gaining an ability to influence opinions of 3rd parties en masse. For the case of gaming we’ll mostly focus on streamers and Youtubers.
Influencer marketing is usually quite high-maintenance, costly and risky. I don’t intend to be mean, but if you think about engaging influencers like, say, KSI or Ninja and you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend, you should probably start smaller. There’s a lot of so-called microinfluencers and it may be a good idea to start contacting them. Microinfluencers are just regular influencers with small following, say, below 25k YT subs (for the sake of this post). They usually don’t have much if any brand sponsorship experience and it’s possible that they will agree to showcase your game for free, as they will be flattered that you reached out to them and they may also be genuinely interested in your title. They are also a good field to learn stuff about cooperating with influencers, certain do’s and don’ts of business negotiations and such.
There are some risks regarding your game itself. Of course, the influencer may not like it and will share no positive opinions on it. And, within such communities, bad news make rounds easily. So in order to minimize the risk of this happening, make sure the game is:
- looking good,
- streamer friendly – it’s fun to watch.
Influencers often don’t do a lot of research into new games, unless they are crazy about the lore and previous installments, but you’re probably trying to introduce a new IP to the market, so that won’t be the case. Because of this, try to find influencers whose interests and content seem like a good fit for your game. If you’re working on a boomer shooter (like Dusk), find a person who streams Doom mods and plays stuff like Quake. Their audiences are interested in such games (they watch these games getting played), so it’s possible that they could be converted into leads and then into clients easily. You also need keep in mind that they are people – not some sort of entities. Don’t be afraid to befriend them, ask them for feedback, ask if it would be possible for them to plug your social media links in their content. And find a lot of them, because it’s better to cold mail 100 people and get 2 influencers than to cold mail 5 and get 0.
If you’re going to explore paid possibilities, you will be able to get bigger names, thus increasing your brand awareness. However, you need to keep some things in mind:
- big influencers are usually a part of a content creator network (say, an agency for influencers) and they rarely do stuff for free, especially since you will most likely not be with the influencer themself, but with an account manager of theirs,
- it’s going to be expensive,
- HAVE ANY AND ALL OBLIGATIONS, PRICES AND ACTIVITIES SPECIFIED IN A WRITTEN AND SIGNED CONTRACT,
- don’t forget to ask them for sharing stuff abou your game in their other social media channels, especially on FB, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, as it’s also going to help with spreading the info about your game.
There are also risks regarding other activities of an influencer. They may simply not be a good fit for your brand and their other activities could, by association, hurt your game’s visage.
However, influencer marketing basically is placing your game on a „board” (the content of an influencer is the board) and exposing it to a specific set of people with the board. It can certainly be an effective tool to growing your BA, but it has its fair share of risks and it’s often more expensive than you think (I’m bound by NDAs, so I can’t tell in public how expensive influencer services can be, but we’re talking about 4 and 5 digit numbers for a single video). Therefore, it may be a good idea to promote your game with the use of microinfluencers if you have a small budget.
- may be very effective,
- well-suited audiences (if you choose right influencers),
- your game can be turned into the next big thing.
- possible controversies or lackluster content may be harmful to your brand,
- it’s usually hard to measure some KPIs, especially conversions from viewers into social media following,
- you need to have a working, stable and good looking build of your game.
Landing page + mailing list
Landing pages are usually more of a B2B (business to business) or service-oriented (like legal services, online courses) thing. They can be defined as web pages to which members of your audience can go and then perform a specified action or a set of such actions (but they are usually used for performing one). You certainly want to display what your game is and is not, using logos, gameplay/theatrical trailers and an eye-catching one-liner which helps to sell the game. However, how do you choose the action you want the players to perform? You should prioritize what’s the most important thing your future players can do and what can be done. There’s a natural progression of sorts:
- join mailing list,
- add to wishlist,
- take part in a test,
- buy the game.
You don’t necessarily have to include all of the steps I mentioned above, so let’s exclude the 3rd and 4th ones. In this case, there’s a simple progression that encourages people to buy your game over time. However, more importantly, you can tell people what to do when you want them to and you will be able to be in touch with high-quality leads due to your mailing list.
Mailing lists are lists which consist of e-mail addresses of people who decided to join it. Even though this tool is often overlooked, due to low response rates and low CTR (click through ratio), it never hurts to be able to push your comms straight to people most likely willing to buy your game.
However, you need to promote the landing page itself and then you need to include a good CTA (call to action) on the page itself and you also need to make the lead interested in your game at a glance for them to convert. Because of this, I’d rather say that landing pages and mailing lists are a tool more suited for increasing player retention rates and providing sales rather than increasing BA. However, you can certainly make a landing page that will be sensational and will get a lot of traffic. The question is, whether you want to invest your time, energy and money into it.
- you can get great leads,
- fully customizable,
- you can make the site the hub for the community.
- it may not be worth it,
- you need to know how to build an impressive landing page or be able to pay someone to build one,
- it’s more suited for other stuff than BA (namely – sales).
Banner ads are a type of net ads which are pretty much some sort of artwork with a copy. They usually redirect people who click them to a site specified by the one who created the ad. I don’t think they are well suited for increasing BA, as they are more often used in UA (user acquisition) campaigns. They require some graphic design skills to make and are usually not that great when it comes to conversion rates and CTR. I don’t think they are a well-suited tool for the purpose we talk about in this post.
- they can be cheap,
- it’s better than nothing.
- their purpose is totally different and they aren’t a good fit for increasing brand awareness,
- poor performance (usually),
- susceptible to AdBlock,
- despite being cheap, they still cost money.
Gaming expos are events during which developers and other companies showcase their products, upcoming or already present on the market, to the general public and press. Joining an expo can be a pretty big undertaking, as stand prices can range anywhere between a few hundred and tens of thousands of dollars. You’ll also most likely have to set up your stand and make all of the promo items like leaflets, t-shirts, bandanas and so on. Being at an expo also doesn’t guarantee a good performance, if you don’t take any actions. There’s a handful of tips on how to make the most of an expo:
- make your stand eye-catching – cosplay as characters from your games, 3D print some items from your game and stage a photobooth, organise a tournament for your possible future players, actively invite people to visit your stand and try your game, get some screens and speakers which will display the gameplay of your game and your trailers; generally speaking, the more effort you put into your attendance, the bigger return you will get,
- have a working build of your game and at least a handful of computers for the attendees and the press to play the game; you also need to have 2 extra computers – one for business and managing stuff, second one for the press and influencers to try your game without a need to limit access to the game to other attendees; offer screen capture, so they have simple access to the media they would get while playing the game,
- get at least 3 people to be hosts of your stand (one of them is probably going to be you, so just get your colleagues or some other friends) – one person should be the main host of your stand, second person can be a co-host who will have technical knowloedge and will have managerial knowledge and will also be responsible for media and influencer contacts and interviews, third person can actively advertise your game at the expo; of course, the more people, the easier it will be to divide tasks,
- take a day or two off after the expo’s over and you’re back, because you will be exhausted; allow others to regenerate as well,
- contact press and influencers before going to the event and invite them to visit your stand in order to get as many media prospects, drastically increasing chances of your game being written or told about in a media outlet or in a video,
- attend dev parties after hours – they are good for networking and are usually super fun.
Unfortunately, due to covid, attending expos may be problematic now, so you may not get a lot of opportunities at this point in time.
- You really can bond both with press/influencers and your players,
- there’s a lot of networking opportunities,
- these events are fun,
- it’s possible to get a lot of press there.
- Expos are expensive,
- you and your team will be tired,
- there’s a possibility you won’t get press.
There’s a lot of gaming award shows and you should take part in them if you have a working build of your game. Winning awards is also a great way of getting press. There isn’t a lot to talk about here, though.
- Free press,
- you will get to know your immediate market competitors better and will be able to judge aspects of your game in comparison to them.
- You can win nothing,
- entering such awards can cost money.
There are also other ways to increase brand awareness…
…but I wouldn’t call them relevant in this case. I’m mostly talking about other communication and ads variants, which, like banner ads, are usually used for different purposes – stuff like display ads, product placement/sponsored content (in this case – content which features a clip encouraging people to buy your product, but talking about something else). These tools are mostly used in user acquisition and if you have money to burn, sure, go ahead and use them to increase your brand awareness. However, in other cases – save the money to grow your clientele when the time comes. There’s also cross-promotion. Say, your game will be shared on another game’s social media profile and you return the favour. While it can drive some traffic and is a decent tool by itself, I’m rather against using it, because it can dilute your communications and decrease the value of your brand.
General tips and guidelines
When to begin your communication efforts?
There’s no right, set in stone time when you should start talking about your game. I’d say you should rather focus on some criteria which are going to be helpful in determining if the time’s right:
- your game is already well-defined,
- there’s some content you can show people,
- you know that your game will be of high quality,
- the current build of the game allows you to catch video footage which looks nice and could be used for promotional purposes,
- there’s enough time for you to build a community around the title, but on the other hand, there’s not enough time for the hype to die.
I’d say that starting communications two years before the launch of the game, if there’s no strong IP backing it, is probably a good idea. If you have a strong IP and are able to squeeze a lot of quiality content 6 months could be a good idea.
Which communication channels you should use and when?
You need to figure out what info is going to be:
- not worth posting,
Let’s get one thing sorted out before talking about what needs to be posted where. Content not worth posting is a type of content that isn’t considered too interesting for the general public. You know, stuff like internal bugfixing, introducing new coding frameworks to the title and so on. I advise not to post such content, because only a handful of people will react to it and it’s not what you wanna get. Confidential info is info that is crucial to your operations and should not be disclosed to the public. This may be your know-how, your source code, personal data of your leads and so on. Do not post this stuff, unless you are either forced to, have no other option or a very good reason to publish it.
I’d say crucial info, like the game announcement, release date, beta tests beginning, game’s release should be optimally communicated at least via PR statements/press, SoMe, influencers, gaming expos, landing page and mailing list. This is big info that needs to get to as many people as possible, so engage all of your channels. Non-crucial info, like minor work progress reports, lolcontent and such is great for SoMe, as it can be very engaging and usually doesn’t demand a lot of work. Sales-oriented content should be primarily posted in your SoMe, mailing list and by influencers – you may also try and get some media outlets to write about it, but it’s unlikely they will publish such stuff, unless they are known to do it.
tl;dr – use as many of these channels as possible but put special focus on your SoMe, inlfuencers, PR statements and mailing list in this order.
Make your communications simple and understandable. Unless you’re making a strongly localized game, people from many different countries will read what you write, so you want your content to be easily digestible.
Never share the release date unless you’re 100% sure you will deliver.
Make sure that your game is good.
Don’t be afraid to be fun. However, remember that there’s a lot of stuff which can be off-limits and it’s surprisingly easy to cross the line.
You will probably be able to repurpose some of your old content. Let’s say, why not reuse some old graphic assets from you dev blog as an image for your social media?
Adjust your communications to your audience and to the platform you’re using to communicate.
Proofread your stuff.
Saying „sorry” is ok and apologizing after messing something up is usually a good idea. However, don’t be too sensitive, because you’ll spiral into a void filled with constant apologies.
Journalists are often lazy and pompous, but it’s easier to work with them when you think of them as assets for fulfilling your goals.
Thank you for reading this article! It turned out to be longer than I thought it would be, but that’s ok, as I only scratched the surface of most of these topics and there’s much more you will get to know about them in the future installments of Indie Games Marketing 101. If you wanna be up to date with all the stuff that I do and with my personal life, or if you wanna talk about possible cooperation or just wanna get your butt kicked in Power Rangers Battle For The Grid, follow me on Twitter or add me on LinkedIn. Have a good one!
Indie Games Marketing 101 pt. 5 – coming soon!
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