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So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 7: Promote and Support

You've made a game, but it's not going to sell itself. Here's how to get it out there
So... You Want to Make Video Games? Part 7: Promote and Support
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So far, game designer Nick Pendriis has showed us how to come up with a new gaming concept, how to turn that into a usable design, evolve your design into a workable plan, begin building the game, create its various assets, and how to test and fix it before publishing.

When your game goes live, the work doesn't end, of course. Now it's time to make sure the world knows your game exists, and this is one of the trickiest aspects of game creation.

As we continue our exclusive serialisation of Pendriis's ebook, So... You Want to Make Video Games?, we now move on to promoting and supporting your brand new game.

You can get up to speed with the other features in this series using the links below, afterwhich Pendriis will introduce us to this essential phase of his game design system.

  1. CONCEPT: Find a strong idea.
  2. DESIGN: Make test versions and create a blueprint.
  3. PLAN: Organise the project carefully.
  4. BUILD: Create the computer code.
  5. ASSETS: Create visuals, audio and words.
  6. TEST. FIX & PUBLISH: Look for problems, resolve them, release the game to the public.
  7. PROMOTE and SUPPORT: Announce the game and respond to feedback.

Here's Nick Pendriis to give you a bit more about the testing, fixing and publishing phase.

A game doesn't sell by magic, no matter who made it. If you want to sell your game, you need to tell people about it! Logically, the more people that know about your game, the more likely it is that people will play it.

If you have a multi-million dollar budget then you can advertise with the best of them. Splatter banners over the web, get some prime-time TV slots and make sure your game is top of all the search results.

Then associate with big name brands and get your game on their products. Give stuff away in big competitions. Basically, do anything you can to get people seeing and talking about the product. That's how it works for the big boys but maybe you don't have a million dollars for advertising, so what other options are there?

Well, plenty.

#1: App Store Optimisation

The first thing every game needs is a good description that contains some key search terms. “App Store Optimisation” (ASO) is based on “Search Engine Optimisation” (SEO).

In both cases, it’s all about visibility and “discoverability” – making sure that when people are searching, they’ll find your products.

Think about it: If you’ve made a car racing game and a potential customer is browsing the store, or Googling to find new games, you want them to find your game and download it. So be sure to put “car racing game” in the description and give them clear reasons to play it. This may sound obvious but being succinct is a serious benefit when you’re writing store text. It’s not as common as you might expect.

ASO has become something of an art form, like SEO, and companies invest serious time, money and effort into raising their profile in searches. You may not have the same resources as the big companies but you do have the time to choose your words carefully and make sure your game is being noticed, at least by those who are interested.

#2: Promotional video

The next thing a game needs is a promo video. This is especially important for apps in digital stores, like iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Customers really appreciate being able to watch footage of the game before paying out their hard earned money. It can mean the difference between them buying a game or not.

The stores recommend that developers upload a video and they take care of the online storage. It also makes sense to put the video on YouTube, which is also free for storing and sharing movies.

The promo video is your call-to-arms. It should be an honest representation of the game, with some sparkle and excitement added to make it interesting. Don’t expect it to go viral but give it a shot!

Your video needs to say “This game right here, is clearly worth playing. Just look at the great things it lets you do!”

Ideally, make a promo trailer (thirty seconds to a minute long) and another, slightly longer video clearly showing in-game footage.

So the video editor (or you, if you’re flying solo) will need tools to create a short, punchy trailer.

Tools of choice:



#3: Media/social media

Having summarised the game effectively and created a suitable video, it’s time to hit the social networks and insist that your friends share your news. Tell the blogs, the podcasts and the gamer shows. In fact, tell anyone that’s interested. However, take a few moments to consider your promotional strategy, because you absolutely must have one!

With social media, it is important to know the difference between connections and engaged connections. It doesn’t matter how many people have liked a page or follow an account, most of them won’t ever come back to see further news. What really matters is how many people are actively sharing, posting and getting involved regularly. That invisible number is the real measure of online popularity.

Each social network is slightly different, having its own rules and its own community, with their own traits and habits but in general, nobody likes spam. If you over-post, you’ll put people off and your audience will shrink. So keep them informed but give them a chance to miss you! How you treat your player audience is crucial.

#4: Public relations

Most of us have heard of “PR” and we understand that it’s about promotion but what are “public relations” and why do they matter?

These days, brand is everything and everything is a brand. Personalities are brands, in show business, sports or any other walk of life. We’re all brands. “Branding” is all about creating a unique signature or graffiti tag and that brand mark acts as an icon. What it represents in people’s minds is significant.

A lone developer is just as much of a brand as any big studio or publishing house. Being a brand becomes an especially important issue when you, or your work, are in the public eye and on a global stage. It’s sensible to spend time creating and curating your public image and cultivating a good relationship with the public. That relationship is the difference between success and failure.

For example, the original Xbox console was not a success when it launched in Japan. Microsoft confidently presented a monolithic black slab to Japanese gamers, too big to fit under most Japanese TVs. It came complete with an oversized controller that was too large for their hands. When Microsoft eventually came back with a smaller controller, it was too little too late. So to speak. They had already disappointed.

Compared to the native Japanese consoles of the time, like Sony’s PlayStation, Nintendo’s GameCube and Sega’s Dreamcast, the Xbox itself was unnecessarily large and cumbersome and the range of game types was narrow and lacked popular franchises. Consequently, the Xbox brand has never recovered in Japan, despite the marketing power of Microsoft. You only get one chance to make a first impression!

Microsoft needed to do more homework before approaching a new audience. That’s exactly why you need a good strategy for appealing to the public.

Leave the trash talk in the arena!

Equally, what you say about others effects the way you are seen by everyone else. As a rule of thumb, don’t take value away from your rivals, add value to yourself. Avoid being negative about others or their work. Stick to promoting your own product and brand in a positive way.

When describing your game, try to avoid the usual hype words like “cool”, “awesome”, “fantastic” and “amazing”. They don’t mean anything and usually sound false or egotistical. It’s cool that you think your product is cool (not that its temperature matters) but that’s really for the players to decide. There’s a universe of difference between a developer saying “Our game freaking rocks!” and players saying “Your game freaking rocks!”

Talk less. Say more.

I’d rather hear a developer say “Our game gives you power over alien empires!” or “Control time and space with your fingers!” That kind of thing. Be creative and keep it real!

#5: Beware of “ Disappointing Gift Syndrome

Be careful of overselling or promising more than you can deliver. Imagine a friend informing you that they have a surprise present for you -- but you can’t have it for a week! Obviously, during the next week, you wonder what the present will be. Curiosity is a powerful thing and that’s the dangerous part, right there. By the time you’ve spent seven days imagining the possibilities, the present itself may come as a let-down. For surprise presents, it’s best to announce them at the time of delivery!

When promoting your new project, choose the right time to announce things and don’t give people unrealistic expectations. Of course you want to get them fired up and excited, just the way you are, but keep it in check. If you’re honest and you’re making something you feel passionate about, there will be an audience for it. Social media is everywhere and it’s free, so you have all the tools you need to find your audience and engage with them.

You can achieve a lot with time and effort. The real trick with all marketing is to be creative and get people’s attention – preferably in a good way. Think outside the box and try doing something different. If you've created the best knitting game of all time, try knitting a large image of the game’s icon on a jumper and sending it to a popular knitting magazine. They'll want to share a photo and a link with their audience. Some of those interested readers will become customers and possibly fans!

Large companies have their own PR and marketing departments. Others hire the services of specialised agencies. For your first project you’re on your own, so don’t expect to get a million downloads. Learn in front of a small audience of friends and as you get better, your audience will grow. You’ll start generating “good PR” by listening to your players and responding. Which is exactly why I’ve grouped promotion and support together as one phase. They go hand in hand with each other.

#6: Support

Once a game is in the stores, it should start receiving player feedback. The stores generally provide a feedback mechanism but it’s important for developers to have their own system for listening to players.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

- Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

The players will definitely find any bugs still hiding in the game, which will need to be fixed. Players will also be very vocal about what they like or dislike, which helps developers to refine their games and usually make them better. As with all refining though: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Mission accomplished

There you have it. The game is in the store, people are playing it and you’ve amended any issues. With any luck, you’ve figured out a way to make money from your game and the cash is coming in. You may even earn enough to invest in your next game, or at least pay for a few coffees.

Hopefully, more than anything else, you’ve entertained people and had fun doing it, maybe learning a few new things along the way.

So now we’ve covered the general process of video game development in eight clear steps. Just like anything else in life: If you put in the effort, eventually, you’ll earn the rewards!