Alex Josef is the managing partner of VIM Global Consulting.
Indie development is tough, especially when the individual or team is putting all their money, time, and soul into a project that takes years to create. One part of the process that’s getting even tougher for indie developers is having the result of all their hard labor (the game) stand out among the thousands of available titles.
Oftentimes, indie developers don’t have much of a budget — or none at all — for external marketing help, and most aren’t familiar with how to promote a game. At this moment, hundreds of great games are available to play, but due to a lack of awareness, they simply aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous indie devs, some with and some without budget. I’ve also stumbled upon games on various platforms that I fell in love with and had great ratings that just hadn’t been discovered by many people.
Because of this, and because we want to see indie devs succeed, I’ve created the following list of public relations tactics indie developers can use to market their games without having to break the bank. These are only the basics, but they should help developers at least understand the importance of securing awareness for their game.
Show your game everywhere
Generating buzz about a game prior to launch is key to successful sales, and the best way to do this is to show a game at every possible conference and event. Conferences, such as the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), have designated indie space where you can show your game without having to spend an absurd amount of money, and are perfect for getting both press and consumer eyes on your game.
Maybe you don’t have money for booth space but want to provide a sneak peek at your game. Easy solution: Show off the game at nearby hotels and coffee shops. The press is growing accustomed to these types of meetings and is willing to make a trek away from the convention center if your game piques their interest.
This brings up the next tactic to promote games … .
Clearly distinguish your game
Journalists will only come to see your game if it sounds like something they or their audience would want to play. Too many times, we hear a game being pitched as an “entertaining third-person adventure game that has people solve unique puzzles.” Please, don’t do this. These are general statements that don’t make your game stand out and don’t really entice people to learn more about it.
What you need to do is call out what is distinctly different about your game and explain it in one sentence. Keep messaging simple and don’t try to imitate triple-A publisher lingo. For example, when I worked with DrinkBox Studios on Guacamelee!, we promoted the game as “an action-packed, 2D brawler/platformer that alternates between the worlds of the living and the dead, and it’s heavily inspired by Mexican folklore.”
And remember, quickly differentiating yourself from other games will help immensely when looking for funding because most publishers and VCs have little time to hear your pitch.
Know your audience
As a developer, you’re most likely limited in the amount of time you can spend tracking down press e-mail and reaching out to editors. You can’t contact everyone, and if you are targeting the wrong people, you are wasting efforts.
What you need to do is focus on influential press that will reach your key demographics. This is especially true for mobile and social game developers, as most video game enthusiast sites have one person who occasionally covers mobile and social games. Reaching out to the whole team doesn’t mean you’re getting coverage, and sometimes this type of spamming will end with editors blocking your e-mail.
Get a little help from friends
The indie-dev scene is full of people helping each other succeed, and in many cities, you can find developers connecting over a drink during the workweek. Having a vibrant indie scene is good for everyone so don’t be afraid to ask for help from your fellow developers.
Maybe a friend has a connection to a certain outlet or will let you display your game in the corner of their booth at a show. It doesn’t cost you anything to ask, and the benefits are huge if a fellow dev is able to provide support. Additionally, help can mean anything. It can mean QA testing, having someone look at a concept, or anything else that comes with development.
Video is king
More outlets are moving toward a focus on video coverage, and even though a video takes a bit of time to make, it is well worth it when a good clip can reach millions of potential players. Some of the largest YouTube channels are devoted to video games, and many gaming websites will give better placement to a new gameplay video over a bunch of screenshots.
Depending on where you are in development with your game, releasing videos that show off something new (don’t just make a video to make a video) every few months is a good way to keep your game top-of-mind (both press and gamers).
Overall, the amount of success you have in generating awareness for your game will depend on how much time and effort you put into the PR process. You put in the hours to make a great game, so it only makes sense to put in work to have people actually see it and if you can afford to do it, hire someone to handle that aspect (either internal or external help).