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.
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.
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.
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