Indie game marketing, who needs it? You and your team have come up with a great game idea. You decided to develop it independently, and it seems you have come up with a great game. You even used some top graphic design software to develop it. You’ve set the game up on Steam, everybody involved has emailed their family and friends.
Still, something is not going right. Why did things start so wrong? It just might be that you didn’t factor in one thing. You need to have a good, well-developed marketing plan.
As some gaming experts note, the commercial marketplace is a big and noisy place, and the games industry is bigger and noisier than most. There are thousands of game developers and publishers out there and they all are competing for players’ attention.
“The simple answer to this question is that it’s very difficult for a player to notice even a very good game because there is so much noise to cut through to find new things.”
But then, there are more complicated answers to this question, and there is usually one solid answer to all of them. Like with any service or product, indie games need a detailed and well-thought-out marketing plan. Such a plan has to be developed and prepared at the same time as the game itself.
It is a fact that a vast majority of indie games fail (Game If You Are- GIYA, above). At the same time, it is also a fact that one of the key reasons is not the quality of the game but “because the vast majority of indie developers treat marketing as an afterthought, rather than as a part of their game development project itself.”
Why do you need indie game marketing?
But let us start first with indie (independent) games and why developers take that route? An indie game is a game created by an individual developer or a small team without financial support from the publisher.
“Typically, indie games are created by individual developers, small teams, or small independent companies. Due to their independence, indie developers vs. publishers have neither operational nor creative restrictions and do not need publisher approval.” This is mandatory for developers of mainstream games.
“Small teams, great opportunities, and lack of boundaries for creativity have created conditions in which indie games can be innovative, creative, and with great artistic expression.”
In some ways, the indie games industry is comparable to the independent film industry. “However, the indie games industry is targeting online sales. For developers, online sales are more profitable and more affordable than retail sales. Moreover, with the rise in popularity of social media, a new genre of casual games has emerged.”
There are some big indie game successes, the obvious example is the huge sales of ‘Minecraft.” But, as mentioned, the vast majority of indie games have more losses than gains. “. According to statistics, an average indie game on Steam costs less than $9 and sells only a few copies. An average consumer will not buy unpopular games at all.”
So why doesn’t the average game player notice, even some of the best indie games? The more complicated answer we mentioned above lies in the way the game market works.
More on the needs for a marketing plan
The likes of Steam, the App Store, Google Play, and the Nintendo eShop are part-curated, part-algorithm driven. This means that some content is pushed toward players because the people in charge of the store think it will perform well. The rest is automatically distributed around the store based on a complex set of mathematics that aim to predict what will perform well. All because there are so many games to choose from. So, the storefronts have the freedom to foreground the stuff they know – or have a pretty good idea – will make the most money (GIYA).
Essentially, whether it is a human or a computer, they need some proof that there will be a substantial audience for your game out there. “This means you have to show some initial momentum: people visiting your Steam page and adding you to their wish list, people enthusiastically covering your game in the media, or people following your social channels.”
This all leads to one conclusion. You need to invest both time and resources into your indie game marketing. Whether it involves video marketing, Twitter video ads, or a marketing writing expert (usually all of those or more), you need a marketing plan that will work.
“Just like developing a game, running a marketing project is something that takes planning, and an investment of time (and often money) in order to make it work” (above).
The first thing to consider is the target audience for any given game. Who is going to get the most enjoyment out of your game? What other games are currently out there that those people seem to be enjoying? What those games are doing and not doing? What’s working really well for them? Are there any ‘gaps’ in the market you can see, for something a little different?
Steps to take in your indie game marketing
Based on the above questions, you can consider what kind of marketing activities you need to undertake. Get Social (above) suggests a 10-step guide to indie game marketing that can serve as a solid basis you can use:
- Focusing on App Store Optimization (ASO). More than 50% of the apps are discovered via search. If that’s where your target market is looking for things, then that’s exactly where you need to make yourself visible. You would need to optimize the name of your game as well as keywords and description to suit the app stores. Have in mind that different app stores use different search keywords.
- ‘Soft launch’ is absolutely essential. Growth hackers like Oliver Kern think that the game’s soft launch determines whether a game is ready for the market. SofaTramp launch means that the game becomes available to a restricted audience You gauge their experience and based on it, you improve the game based on their feedback and engagement before a full launch.
- Involving game reviewers. “Unlike games backed by publishers, you can’t spend on unlimited advertisements to acquire users. For that reason, you need influencer marketing. “Look for influencers who have followers that fall under your target user demographics. Reach out to them with a suggestion that they review your game on their channels.”
- Using the power of ‘word of mouth.’ Word of mouth is a powerful source of organic traffic, and its main advantage is that it is free. It has proven to boost marketing effectiveness by a whopping 54%. About 84% of people are known to act on personal recommendations coming from their friends and family (above).
More on the steps to take
- Take the advantages that digital platforms offer. Getting as much press coverage as possible is essential. Digital platforms offer a number of various channels to do that. It can be a YouTube channel, a press release platform, a review, or a tech news website that a lot of people follow. “Create a micro landing page that highlights what your game has to offer.” The landing page should include the following elements:
- Short game trailer
- Links to the app stores and social media
- Extracts from game reviews
- Calls to action
- The power of social media. Can you find your target market on social media? Certainly! According to Statista, the number of social media users worldwide is predicted to grow to almost 4.41 billion by 2025. Your game players are out there! You have to identify the social media platforms that your target users are most active on.
“Make sure your game gets a dedicated page with regular catchy posts that keep your audience engaged. Share the gameplay-related tips and tricks in the form of screenshots or short videos. Experiment with the content that you share and target initiating conversations with your potential users.”
- Forums and communities. Forums like r/IndieGaming on Reddit are ideal for users to discover new games. You can even create your own community right from the beginning. Of course, this is in the stage where you have something to show of the game.
- Using cross-promotion. There are plenty of industry-specific ad networks that you can use to promote your game to a large audience.
- Focusing on user relationships. Along with the relationship between a game developer and its users, consider the relation between your players that you can use to keep them engaged and help you grow your game further.
But, what about the costs?
Another element to consider for indie game marketing is participating in gaming events. While the pandemic has limited live events, online ones are still growing in number. They are a perfect vehicle for promoting your potential game.
Of course, the above steps do not exhaust the possibilities of marketing an indie game. But even looking just at the steps listed above, it all just might seem like an expensive affair.
Actually, your financial investment in the marketing of any given game will depend on your goals. “If you’re a spare-time developer hoping to sell just a couple of thousand copies, maybe pay for a nice family holiday somewhere, then you might be able to get away with learning some grassroots marketing techniques yourself and not paying anyone a penny” (GIYA).
But what if your goals are a solid commercial success? That would mean that you would certainly have to engage some design, writing, and marketing experts. Of course, you would need to develop a budget for such expenses.
According to GUYA (above), most successful indie developers seem to settle on a budget that is around 25-50% of the amount they’re spending on making the game (to put this in context, many triple-A publishers have marketing budgets that match, if not exceed, their production costs).
Even so, engaging a marketing agency is an expensive affair for indie game developers. For them, in most cases, getting the services of freelancers is the best way to go. For that purpose, BunnyStudio actually offers a wide range of freelance services that might exactly fit a dual purpose. Fit within the budget and getting exactly the indie game marketing that you need.