Mobile Mavens

What are the best ways for indie game developers to market their games?

What are the best ways for indie game developers to market their games?

The world of marketing is a daunting place, and one that often requires a fair bit of money to truly crack, especially if you want your game to compete with the big boys.

So when you're an indie with little or no budget to market your game, how exactly can you stir up interest in your release?

To find out, we turned to our Indie Mavens to see what kind of advice they can give to their fellow indies in order to shed some light on their own games.

More specifically, we asked:

  • What do you find are the most useful avenues for marketing as an indie developer?
  • Do you have any case studies you can share of how you've marketed your games in the past?
Simon Joslin Creative Director The Voxel Agents

Marketing is a big topic, I don't have time to write the tome that's necessary to cover it all. But here's what's on my mind of late when it comes to marketing...

I believe that the smartest avenue for any indie game developer is to focus on making a game that will enable the players to become your marketing muscle.

We need to go beyond building a unique game, by helping communities to form around our games.
Simon Joslin

The power of word-of-mouth is huge, and when you aren’t competing on scale, or multi-million-dollar awareness campaigns, your better approach is to focus on making an amazingly unique game, that be had nowhere else, that is so surprisingly fresh that you want to tell your friends about it.

But as indies we can't just stop there, we need to build reasons why the game will spread itself. We need to go beyond building a unique game, by helping communities to form around our games.

Think about mega hits like Minecraft, Pokemon or Clash of Clans. They might have huge marketing budgets now, but they grew because of the communities forming around them.

I think indies can learn from these examples by looking at how those game designs encouraged communities to form, how social aspects were critical to the experience, and shareability was particularly influential.

Those communities then helped to build greater and greater awareness for those games as they spiralled upwards towards stardom.

Simon Joslin says while blockbusters like Minecraft may have huge marketing budgets now, they grew because of the communities forming around them

Aaron Fothergill Co-founder Strange Flavour

Even if they didn't mention your last game, it's still worth letting your press contacts know about your new game.
Aaron Fothergill

This is a subject I’ll probably be waiting to read the article rather than being able to contribute a lot on as marketing’s been our weak point recently.

However, I can add a couple of bits that have been useful.

1) Team up. Whether it's cross-promotion with other indies or actually working with a publishing partner, the more people helping tell everyone about your game, the better.

2) Even if they didn't mention your last game, it's still worth letting your press contacts know about your new game. They get bombarded with thousands of press releases each week now, but you don’t want them to feel left out. Plus, it keeps you on your toes in keeping your contact list up to date and making your press releases interesting.

3) Sometimes those tiny little blogs that are forever asking for promo codes but have a readership that seems mostly limited to Outer Mongolia can be worth a punt. You never know where you might pick up some manic fans who’ll go on a Twitter rampage to promote your game for you!

Pierre-Luc Vettier CEO Zero Games Studios

Spend less, but spend locally in targeted countries to improve your chances of success.
Pierre-Luc Vettier

I'm not very good at marketing (I think it's more a publisher's job than developer's...) but I'll try to answer this without saying crappy things…

One of the few things I learned from our last games is that the better way to market a game is to market locally. Don't think about global "worldwide" marketing.

Spend less, but spend locally in targeted countries to improve your chances of success. It's better to be number #1 in a few countries than number #80 everywhere.

Do some research about countries where you game has a chance to be popular, and then try to analyse games that had success, and why their marketing campaigns were successful in these targeted areas.

Some countries have particular habits that you need to adapt your communication to increase chances of success!

Tanya X. Short Creative Director Kitfox Games

We always try to work towards that relationship with our growing fanbase.
Tanya Short

The one constant is that your game should be quickly understood – whether it's a tagline, a gif, or whatever, the "hook" of your game (and not faked, the actual real hook of the gameplay) is the #1 indicator of whether anyone will ever hear about it, never mind buy it.

Other than that, different audiences have different advantages. Our strategy has been to try and build a reputation and following over several games, with the assumption that no individual one will be a huge hit, and trying to show we make games people can care about.

Then, whether we tweet, go to PAX, or just write a forum comment, we always try to work towards that relationship with our growing fanbase.

Mobile is especially tricky for this strategy because the culture is not really about "following" a particular developer, or even knowing who makes what – hence why we've been exploring desktop and console more lately, where loyalty is easier to find.

Dan Menard CEO Double Stallion

Press and reviews are affecting sales less than ever, and how many consumers actually go to shows?
Dan Menard

I don't have any specific advice on the best ways to market a game these days. I think that the state of the art is constantly changing, so if I gave you any advice it would probably be out of date in a couple of months.

I completely agree with Tanya about building your game with "hooks" so there is something for people to talk about when they play your game.

Otherwise, I like how tinyBuild's CEO Alex Nichiporchik puts it: they try to surprise the market with 'magic tricks', the challenge is that these tricks only work once.

TinyBuild did an amazing job with Twitch plays Punch Club for example. If another game did the same, it wouldn't be newsworthy.

With our next game, we want to challenge conventional wisdom. The current self-publishing track involves spending your money on shows (PAX, Gamescom), talking about your game early and often and trying to attract press.

I'm not sure how relevant this advice is anymore. Press and reviews are affecting sales less than ever, and how many consumers actually go to shows?

tinyBuild's Punch Club, which made its name through Twitch streaming

Everyone is following the same pattern and it leaves us with a glut of indies trying to get noticed. You simply don't differentiate your game anymore by being one of hundreds of indies with booths at PAX.

We're going to spend our budgets on top-quality content marketing (trailer, mobile companion app) and we'll market the game to players directly.

Most other developers think we are crazy with this plan, but that's part of what makes it attractive and remarkable.

Travis Ryan Studio Head Dumpling Design

For us, we find marketing to be the foundation of any project - is this appealing? Who is it for? What will excite them? - this all sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised how many developers don’t approach development in this way.

From there is becomes a process of how to communicate ideas to your audience.

At Dumpling, we want our games to be understood from a single glance of the screen, so with Dashy Crashy people see a car, traffic, a score on the horizon and the idea of the gameplay is established.

From there it was a case of taking something familiar and making it exciting and refreshing; vivid visuals built around clean lines and block colours (before that was a thing), tons of physics based chaos, driven by a procedural engine that creates new traffic, events and scenery that even surprises us.

Adding the score to the horizon was a late addition, but driven by the notion to give the game its own identify. As the fun in Dashy Crashy is its chaotic action, we found screenshots difficult to communicate this, so primarily only shared videos and teaser .gifs.

Branding can be as vital as the game itself - generating awesome idents that pop, key-art that intrigues and trailers that excite are your tools to talk to your varied audience, and it is varied.

Players want the TL;DR, press need a story, YouTubers want buzz-entertainment, and platforms want to see the culmination of that groundswell.

From our limited experience, platforms are key to a small developers reach - certainly in the mobile space - the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon are all actively seeking to showcase the best content on their platforms, and building up contacts and relationships is essential to the survival of a small team.

Attending local biz-dev events, getting involved with other developers, showcasing/playtesting your games to a live public - in all these instances I’ve bumped into super friendly folk from platforms, looking for games.

To be sure, the relationship with platforms can frustrating and ambiguous, but one that keeps you focused and honest to your content and audience.

Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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