Tips and Tricks for Free Indie Game Marketing and Promotion

By Tim Youngblood

Every year, hundreds of games go unnoticed and developers abandon them because they either couldn’t make it profitable or nobody downloaded them. Whether you’re hoping to turn your game development into a full-time job or you’re just doing it for fun, inevitably, you will need to promote it.

I won’t be doing a traditional step by step guide, pretty much every “indie game marketing guide” ever will tell you that it’s a good idea to have a website, a trailer, and use social media. Instead, I’m focusing on some lesser known tricks as well as some things I learned not to do when promoting video games. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully, you can glean some information that marketing bloggers won’t tell you!

 

Make Sure Your Game Has a Playable Demo

A few years ago, I was helping my friends develop a game called Steve the Alright Knight. The game had an amazing trailer and generated a lot of buzz early on, but people ended up losing interest because we didn’t have a playable demo when we started promoting the game. At this point, game review sites lost interest because there was no game to play and pulled out of investing in the Kickstarter campaign without some tangible evidence that the game would ever be finished. I would say if there’s an order of operations for promoting video games, having a playable demo should come before any other marketing activity.

 

People loved the trailer and concept but got bored when there was no demo to go along with it.
 

Prepare a Media Kit

People are lazy by nature and gamers are probably even lazier. Some game review sites get hundreds of requests for games to be reviewed or covered every day. A great way for your game to stand out in the crowd is to do that staff writer’s job for them. In this case, I’m talking about having a media kit that has everything they need to write an article. This means having a synopsis of your game, media assets like screenshots and GIFs, as well as a cinematic or gameplay trailer. The best place to keep your media kit is on your website, that way you can just link to it instead of having to upload a bunch of files into every email you send to prospective coverage. Having a press kit page on your website will also make filling out contact and submission forms on websites go faster.

At this point, you have all of your media assets in one place and can proceed to send an ass-load of emails. This is all pretty straightforward and easy to do but there are few things you can do to make the game reviewer’s job even easier. Image size, file type, and file size are actually very important for online content. As someone who’s been an editor for a few websites, I can tell you that reformatting and resizing images are some of the most tedious tasks for people publishing articles online. Generally speaking, most websites prefer JPEGs over PNGs and try to keep their images under 200 kilobytes. Most featured images are 600 x 400 pixels (this is the image that shows up on a website’s blogroll, in Google search results, and on social media feeds when an article is shared). I also recommend uploading your trailer to YouTube because YouTube videos are the easiest to embed in an article. Reviewers won’t know how good a game is until they play it, and there’s a good chance that they’ll never play it if the pertinent information and media assets for your game are too difficult to find or format.

 

This is the daily life of an online editor. 

 

Should You Run a Kickstarter or Indiegogo?

If you think you can run a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to quit your job and go into full-time game development, you’re going to have a bad time. I tried that a few years ago and it did not go well. However, even though our game came nowhere near meeting its funding goal, I would still do it again (Although with a much lower funding goal). Kickstarter and Indiegogo are websites that get a ton of traffic. Even better, both websites have very little editorial oversight, meaning that it is easier to get your game shown on these websites than it is to get your game covered on a game review or news site.

 

We jumped the shark a little trying to upgrade our simple survival game (Defend Your Dojo) into an MMO.

 

That being said, the money certainly doesn’t hurt. I recommend setting a very low funding goal (like less than $2,000) to get something that will end up being crucial for the release. For example, if you’re making a multiplayer game, there’s a good chance that you will need server space. Even simple HTML games hosted on a website take additional server space beyond the bare minimum hosting package (We cheaped out on hosting for Defend your Dojo and that game crashes all the time). Maybe there’s a tool that will allow you to complete your game faster. You can even use this money to hire an agency to help with game promotion. If you are seeking money, it’s important to itemize where exactly this money is going. Don’t just say “we’re making a game please give us money.”

 

Make a Trailer but Don’t Overthink It

Earlier I said that people are naturally lazy. This also applies to people who are previewing games. Your game’s trailer is likely going to be the first thing that an internet user sees, and will likely be the determining factor and whether or not they want to learn more about your game. You may have the best game ever made and equally good documentation for it in written text, but the unfortunate reality of the situation is that video is currently the preferred form of content for internet users.

That being said, spending a ton of time making a trailer cuts into time spent developing your game. Most websites are more concerned with whether or not you have a trailer than the quality of trailer itself. What they’re really looking for is a Youtube video that they can lazily embed in an article. They aren’t expecting a blockbuster cinematic trailer while your game is still in development. They just want to get a feel for how the game plays. The gameplay trailer below was just some gameplay footage with various items shown that was screen captured through a mobile device to show how the touch controls work. It only took a few hours to put it all together.

 

This trailer was no Citizen Kane, but it did its job. (Look how easy it is to embed a Youtube video!)
 

Social Media Tricks

Even if you loathe social media, it’s pretty much impossible to market something on a low budget without it. Fortunately, the indie game community is probably one of the best and most supportive online communities in social media. On Twitter, you will be amazed at how much support you get when you use hashtags like IndieGame and IndieDev (#indiegame #indiedev). There are also several Facebook groups for indie game development and promotion!

There are a lot of nuances to social media, but one general rule is more posts will eventually net a bigger following. Fortunately, you can make an ass-load of posts without having to be glued to your computer or phone. I highly recommend using a tool like HootSuite, which allows you to schedule social media posts to go out at a later time over multiple social media platforms.

 

hashtags data by hashtagify.me

 

Prepare to Send Lots of Emails

Seriously, we are talking hundreds of emails. Sending the emails is the easy part, you can use a mail merge or a tool like MailChimp to make a nice template that can be distributed to hundreds of email addresses. The harder part is finding said hundreds of email addresses. There are marketing Services who already have collected hundreds of emails and can do a mail merge for you, but if you’re on a tight budget there’s a good chance you’ll have to find them yourself.

 

Search modifiers will become your new best friend

 

If you want to collect email addresses yourself, you’re going to need to learn how to use search modifiers in Google. Fortunately, we have a Google search modifiers tutorial. I’ll go into that deeper in the tutorial, but the basic concept is to use a Google sheet or Excel spreadsheet and copy/paste the email addresses you find on websites that review and cover games. One common search string/modifier is “video games inurl: submit”. This means that you’re looking for a website about video games and the specific page you’re looking for has the word submit in its URL. This will usually lead you to a contact form or an email address that lets you submit content (That press kit page on your website will help with those contact forms). There are a lot of different ways to modify your Google searches to find exactly what you’re looking for.

*This is by no means a comprehensive list so if you have any tips and tricks to help out the community please leave them in the comments!

*Featured image from Wikimedia Commons

Best Free Productivity Software and Tools for Game Development and Promotion

By Tim Youngblood

Whether you’re on a team or designing a game by yourself, staying organized and managing your time is essential. I’m a very unorganized person, I misplace things all the time in my hard drive and even my house. Since I’ve been working online the past few years, I learned how to essentially “idiot proof” everything I work on so I can’t lose it. Since you probably don’t have much of a budget, free tools are essential as software licenses for game development tools you might need can get very expensive. Here are some free tools that I used to make what used to be a weakness of mine into a strength.

Google Docs

Most people are familiar with Google Docs these days so I won’t talk too much about the basics. I prefer Google Docs over Microsoft Office for several reasons. Obviously, Google Docs is free, unlike Microsoft Office, but I would still prefer Google Docs even if Microsoft Office was free. Google Docs allows you to share documents with your team so you can all collaborate on them since it’s cloud-based. It also works on just about any device with an internet connection, this is really nice because I read a lot of documents on my phone.

Google Flowcharts are also great for laying out things like skill trees, item progression, and story arcs before you add them to your game. I’ve also noticed that Google Docs tend to have less formatting issues when you copy and paste them into a CMS (Content management system). My favorite feature, though, is that you can use voice to text on your smartphone to dictate writing. That’s how I wrote this article. Obviously, voice to text doesn’t transcribe your words perfectly, so you’ll need to come back and edit it when you get to a computer. But it’s great for capturing your word vomit so you can come back and edit it later. Like they say in writing classes, great papers aren’t written, they’re rewritten.

 

A very early screenshot of Origin Story‘s spell tree

Trello

Trello is another nice organizational tool that’s cloud-based. It allows multiple users to share and access it on any device with an internet connection. Of any task management tool I’ve ever used, Trello has the easiest interface to use and probably the only interface that works really well on a smartphone. The system itself is pretty simple, users can make boards and put as many columns on these boards to slide cards across. You can put hyperlinks inside of cards for easy access and you can send alerts to other users to let them know when you’re done with your task.

The free version will allow you to do anything you need and pretty much all the Trello Gold version will add is the ability to upload bigger files. The free version allows users to upload files up to two megabytes, which probably isn’t enough if you’re dealing with Graphics assets or video files. Tools like Asana and Jira allow users to upload large files, but you can get around that in Trello if you just add a link to Dropbox on a Trello card. You can make as many Trello boards and cards as you want.

 

Here’s a screenshot of the Trello board we used to develop the Game Borough website

 

Hootsuite

Editors Note: You can schedule posts inside of Facebook for free now!

Even if you hate social media, if you’re trying to promote your game, you will eventually have to join the fray. Ever wonder how larger social media profiles post so damn much at all times during the day? It’s actually much easier than it looks. You don’t have to be glued to a device 24/7, constantly posting things in order to get the number of posts you want out on social media. Pretty much every professional social media manager uses delayed posting tools like HootSuite. While HootSuite doesn’t work very well on mobile devices, I can’t really complain because it’s the best free program that I’ve used for social media.

HootSuite allows you to schedule posts up to months and even years in advance. This way, you can schedule a month’s worth of social media posts in one sitting. It also makes posting the same piece of content on multiple Networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin much easier. Whether you’re promoting your game or just reposting evergreen content, this will save you a lot of time.

 

You can add just about any social network to Hootsuite.

Grammarly

Grammarly is basically spellcheck on crack. It’s great for making sure that you use proper grammar when you’re writing emails in a hurry. It can also help you keep typos out of your game dialogue. It works inside of most content Management systems and social media platforms. It might not sound like a very significant boost to your productivity, but you’d be amazed how much time you save when you don’t have to read things three or four times before sending them. I’m a professional copy editor with two writing degrees and Grammarly still saves my ass all the time.

 

Scott Allen, a novelist, loves Grammarly as much as I do. Image courtesy of ScottAllen.com

 

Stopwatch Extension  (Online or Offline)

Even if you don’t have employee hours to monitor, being aware of how much time on average it takes you to complete a task will help you manage your time better and set more realistic deadlines. I don’t really have a favorite stopwatch tool because most of them work just fine because it’s a relatively simple program. I usually use a browser-based web extension because most of the work I do is online. Some stopwatch extensions allow you to categorize and log your time which can be helpful if you do a lot of different tasks. I’m not an expert on stopwatch apps by any means so if you have a favorite program, let us know in the comments.

*What are your favorite free productivity tools? If you think there’s one we left out that you’re not getting kickbacks for as a sales representative, let us know in the comments!