The guide to marketing indie games


Devcom conference is the world’s largest event which focuses on game development. Industry experts come and share their knowledge in the areas of Virtual Reality, Mobile Games, Business and Production. This year it gathered plenty of leading indie developers and publishers in Cologne and was mainly devoted to approaches publishers or independent developers worked out and effectively use in marketing their games.    

The panel was presented by Steve Escalante, the General Manager at indie publishing house Versus Evil, Jonas Antonsson, the founder of Raw Fury, Dieter Schoeller, MD at Headup Games, and Vernon Vrolijk, the marketing manager at Good Shepherd (former Gambitious). With such an impressive list of speakers, the quality of advice is beyond doubt. So let’s not waste time and dive right into the meat of the thing.

Plan in advance and work assiduously

According to Vernon Vrolijk, the  market has become overcrowded. It doesn’t exclude the opportunities but things are becoming tougher than they've been before. He makes an emphasis on a clear vision of what result you expect from the game. You should foresee the favorable outcome and certainly support your expectations with a detailed plan and hard work.   That's a recipe for success for both the developer and the publisher.

Decide on your game's 'hook'    

Aiming to make a profit, you have to identify at the beginning what makes your game is unique. Otherwise, it is going to be swallowed up on the market.
 Steve Escalante starts with citing his company's  marketing director who is used to ask him, 'Well, what's the hook?' “The Hook” and “The Kicker” is an excellent marketing technique which Escalante advises developers think about at development stage. The Kicker is what makes your game gripping, but first, you need something which can catch the attention of future players. And there goes The Hook. It is everything that distinguishes your game from others ones of the same make or genre. 

Vrolijk pushes forward the above-mentioned idea and reminds developers about the importance to switch  ‘gamer mode’ when you implement this or that feature in your game.  
“We're gamers. If we get excited playing your game, I know I can get people excited. If I play the game and can't think of anything to say about it, that's a bad sign. It's hard to build from that,” with these words Vrolijk addresses himself to the video game developers gathered around.  

Then he continues his speech expressing his vision as a marketer:"Is the core gamer in me excited [about your game]? Do I want to invest two years of my life to work on this? If I do, there's magic - but we have to feel that magic together. You can't fake it. If you fake it everyone will notice, in everything you do. Influencers, the players, the press. The magic needs to be organic, you can't force it. You can, but you're not going to help anyone, especially the dev because you're not going to bring them the success they deserve."

 Choose game distribution channels sensibly

Each game is a new story; therefore you can’t use the same distribution channel all the time. Some games look fantastic in a GIF, so it provides a possibility to do  some Twitter marketing as the game gets everyone's attention within two seconds. Other games don't. If you have a simulation game - it just doesn't work that way. You need to consider where the audience for your game is, where you should invest and that needs a great effort.

Concentrate on your target audience 

Today people are armed with computers which provide the variety of tools for marketing they’ve never had before. You can target directly who you need to. Take for example super powerful Google AdWords. Once you understand your audience, you can do your best and target them to evoke a response from them. Darting about in all directions, pleasing everyone everywhere [with ads] isn’t always effective. Even if you reach 100,000 people among whom only 2,000 people actually like th at game, it isn't as profitable as you may suppose . Better to hit 10,000 people where all 10,000 are excited by your game.  

Use various tactics     

Jonas Antonsson gives advice on how not to duplicate games: “You need to customize what you're doing for every single game. You need to think about the game first and then build around that, not template it and repeat the same stuff again and again. It's all about being smart with the money you have to spend."

Let gamers get their hands on the game ... but still,  keep them intrigued 

Jonas Antonsson praises developers for their eagerness to build the  fanbase around their games during its production. It’s a great opportunity to leverage the developer's audience out there. The keenest developers gain a lot of inspiration telling their stories, supporting their following. They know how to build their core audience. That’s an excellent start point, which publishers like a lot and do their best to take that to the next level. It is always beneficial so people responsible for game promotion try to lean into that whenever they can.

Diving right into the meat of the thing, Escalante outline the main tactics in presenting meaningful content:
1)    Develop your story and decide how many times you can release content. 
Here he also stresses the quality of content, warning that a few screenshots aren't sometimes enough, especially when you plan to go on  Kickstarter or run a crowdfunding campaign. It brings up another piece of advice   
2)    Work out detailed plan of presenting game’s features
The desire to attract funding may lead to the situation when a developer fires all of his bullets out of his gun. Then, when it comes around to press time, it happens that there’s nothing new to show.
3)    Don't tell everything at once, take a step back 
Besides focusing only on game features,  work out who you are as a developer, what your special tech is, what things you can do to get press and influencers excited about you as a company. You obviously have company’s stories as well as game stories.

Traditional press still works 

Dieter Schoeller picks on another important topic to discuss. He says that some games don't work with influencers. While sandbox games work really well this way as the influencer can show their personality during playtime, a point-and-click adventure game doesn’t. If people saw the story they wouldn’t buy the game. You have to be careful.

As a part of game production business, you should respect other people involved in it. One of the main things you need to understand is the value of time. People are busy. If you want them to help you, you need to give something back. It has to be a relationship. Concentrate on how you can reach your target audience. If you have a game that has a hook you give way to successful game promotion. 

As it has been touched upon by Schoeller, some genres require a special approach. Thus, don't discard traditional press.  A journalist impressed by your game can write about it and assist you in reaching your target audience. If you have a game that is flat a bit but is stupid fun for five minutes, therefore traditional press isn’t your odds. They're not going to care. Instead, go to the influencers who have the community full of potential buyers.

You help them by giving them content that can help them get clicks. You supply them with content thereby attracting clicks to their profiles, they help you promote your game. Though, be prepared to break through the noise, as they receive billions of emails. 

Try to break through for the biggest readerships    

Schoeller advises not to give up and go on begging the attention of market giants accumulating and influencing people's opinions in game  dev sphere such as Kotaku, Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun. Publishers work with both influencers and traditional press. If you ask any experienced publisher where to distribute the info about your game, they will vote unanimously for aforementioned crowded sites. Schoeller supports this statement by his company's experience: "W e've done a ton of press work with smaller sites which had zero impact on sales. You can spend hours and hours on it, you'll get great articles but they will not do anything because you're just on a smaller site that two people read. It's better to spend time working with the 20 big pages, taking a tour, visiting them, getting the content ready rather than spending all my time on smaller  websites, fan sites.” He encourages developers and small publishers to take the chances, continue trying with the bigger magazines and keep emailing them until they listen. 

Investigate the influencers’ audiences beforehand

Avoid situations when you reach an influencer and get to know that he hates fighting games, you’re going to suggest him. Don’t waste your time. You may avoid such awkward situations having taken preliminary actions, e.g. gather all necessary information about the influencer and his audience before contacting him. Use things like Keymailer to find who does fighting games and reach out to him. Instead of trying to reach everyone, be precise and spend your time on picking up those who may contribute to your game promotions.