The MASSIVE Indie Game Marketing Post (And How To Get Started!)

The MASSIVE Indie Game Marketing Post (And How To Get Started!)

Marketing is probably the biggest topic in the indie game universe right now. Even if you’ve never finished your first game, you’ve probably already given thought to the way you might get it out there and entice people to play. Because lets face it, one of the coolest parts about being a game developer is watching other people play your game, and it would suck if you released your game and there was no one.

So with that in mind, I wanted to compile my thoughts on first, what it means to “market” a game, but secondly how to do so. I thought Id write a post and compile a ton of marketing information all in one place, so that you can worry less about marketing, and worry more about making great games!

 

What should you know before you start?

  1. People finding you, is your responsibility. When you first launch your game, you are like a sailboat in the middle of the ocean. No one knows that you’re there, and no one knows how to find you. They don’t even know that they should find you. Its you’re responsibility as a developer to let people know that you exist. And if you’re proud of your project, being an evangelist for it shouldn’t feel shady to you.
  2. Marketing is not the same thing as exposure. Marketing is the sum total of every interaction you have with the public. Marketing is the act of acquiring customers. Press and advertisements are forms of marketing, whereas marketing is the big umbrella all forms of sale-based promotion fall under. But marketing is no just promotion or exposure, it is FOCUSED exposure with the intention to monetize. It’s important that you know that, because if you don’t, you’ll confuse marketing for exposure and just try and shout louder than everyone else.
  3. Developers are not your target market. Whatever game you are making, there is a group of people out there (99% of the time) that are passionate about that type of game. If you find that segment of people and market to them directly, you will have much more success than if you promote to anyone. The mistake that most developers make, is that they assume that other game developers are their target market. A lot of developers play games, sure. But so do a lot of soccer moms. So do a lot of 3 year olds. Very rarely those markets overlap, but don’t make the mistake in assuming that your peer group is your target market, its highly unlikely.
  4. Selling is not evil. I remember what it was like to get that sleazy dirty feeling when I was trying to sell something. I also remember what its like to be terrified of a potential negative reaction from someone when they find out you’re charging real money. This is something you have to get over. Selling is not evil. If you have trouble selling your projects, either you know your projects are not good enough, or your self esteem is so low that you believe your projects are not as good as they are. Either way, you have to overcome this and look at selling as a way to not only produce more of something people love, but also a way to help others value your projects higher and spend more time with them.
  5. Your marketing has a UX. Whatever campaign you are trying, whatever methods, traffic sources, or social media accounts you are using, your marketing has a user experience. If you don’t design this experience intentionally, its not that great. You need to map the path that a new player takes all the way from discovery to purchase. For example, they see your post on Facebook, they click, they end up on your landing page, they click “buy”, they see a checkout page, they click “confirm”. Why is this important? Because every step has the SINGULAR goal of getting the person to the next step. In other words, you are not selling ANYTHING in your Facebook post. The ONLY point of that post is to get them to click through to your landing page. And the ONLY point of your landing page is to get them to click the buy button. So with that said, you want to remove things like menu navigation and any other buttons or links. And so on, and so forth. Keep in mind the UX of your marketing, and every single step along the road that your player takes to purchase.

 

What do you need to get started?

  1. A Game HQ (website/blog/email list/GDU Game page). What is a Game HQ you may ask? Essentially, it is a place on the internet that you use as a home-base for your game. So what most people do is they setup a Twitter and Facebook account, and they tell people on Facebook to follow them on Twitter. And they tell people on Twitter to like them on Facebook. And they do the same thing with 10 other internet properties, and before long, you end up with a giant confusing spiderweb of internet properties. And when someone finds you and is interested in your game, they have no clue where to go, and they are likely to quit it and forget it. Instead, treat your website or blog as the inner wheel, and all other internet properties as spokes. The only goal of the Game HQ is to sell the game. The only goal of everything else, is to send traffic to the Game HQ. The most important point to make here though, is that you want to OWN the Game HQ. If your Facebook page is your HQ and you spend all this time and money sending people there and you get banned one day or they change an algorithm or something, you’re screwed. So own it.
  2. A Trailer. These days you NEED a video trailer. Not only can trailers increase conversion of upwards of 10% -30%, but they show players what your game is quickly. If you’re lucky enough to be or know a video guy, awesome! Your trailer is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, but this should not keep you from publishing. Done is better than perfect! Keep it 1-2 minutes, show some of the coolest game-play, use a piece of music that matches the mood of your game, and publish it. Kert Gartner wrote an EPIC post on how to make the perfect game trailer, check it out!
  3. Screenshots. You need a few high-resolution screenshots of your game to show off what the game-play looks like. Some people prefer screenshots or cant watch a video at the moment, you need to cater to them. But it is also important that people see what the game is instantly when they load the page. They can very clearly tell the art style, the type of game, etc. Animated GIFs work best for these! If you don’t know how to make them, check out GIFCAM.
  4. An Elevator Pitch. If you’ve never heard of this concept before, essentially an elevator pitch is a pitch about your game that is short enough to tell someone about on a short elevator ride. Dumb name, I think so. But its really important. If someone asks you what your game is, or what it’s about, you need to have a 1-2 sentence reply that defines the essence of the game. Super Meat Boy is a brutally hard, skill-based platformer about a meat sack trying to save his girlfriend made of band-aids. Its simple, fast and easy, and you can always elaborate if they ask questions. This pitch is important for a ton of things, but most importantly, you need to know in a sentence or 2 what your game is about so you don’t talk for 10 minutes or write 3 paragraphs about it. You will lose people. Rami Ismail talks about a creating one here.
  5. A Press Kit. Now don’t freak out, a press kit is not as hard or as scary as it sounds. A press kit is just a web page that has a bunch of resources that people that want to write about you can use in their content. For example, it would have screenshots, a video, an icon, quotes, awards, features, information, logos, etc. Its basically a kit that you can give to someone so that they have everything they need to write about your game without contacting you. It makes the process quick and easy. You can download a press kit template here.
  6. A Point of Distribution. Essentially this would be something like Steam, or Google Play or the App Store. But this can also be a payment processor or place that you sell and distribute your game. I highly recommend that your point of distribution be your Game HQ, or be 1 click away from it with minimal distractions.

Where can you get players?

The single biggest social network on the planet, its kind of hard to find someone that’s NOT on Facebook. That being said, Facebook was created to connect people with their friends. In recent years it has grown a bit to support groups and events and things that let people who don’t know each other connect around a certain topic, but these things are often confusing to navigate and find. Facebook is extremely powerful when used as a marketing tool effectively, but it can also be a little overwhelming to get started.

 

  1. Etiquette – First thing to note, not everyone you’re friends with sees everything you post. Facebook has an algorithm that limits or promotes posts based on their reaction in the first few minutes of your post, so WHEN to post is just as important as WHAT to post. You’ll also likely be using your personal Facebook account with your friends from High School and your mom, so be respectful with when and what you post. On Facebook its frowned upon to post about your game over and over without any variety in your posts. People call that spam. Don’t do it on your private feed and don’t do it in groups or pages.
  2. Facebook Page – Do you need one? It depends. It is important that you do not split your attention in too many places, especially during critical periods like launch. If you’ve got too much going, you don’t NEED one. But having one can be a great way to reach out to fans. You can either create a Facebook page for each new game, or one for yourself or your studio as a hub. I recommend the single page, because that way you grow your audience over time, you don’t fragment them, and they move on to each new title with you. A quick tip for Facebook pages to get some decent traction is to post a really cool video or something with your game, and then share that page’s post into other groups for exposure. People can like the page directly from there.
  3. Best Times to Post – According to HootSuite (another awesome tool to schedule social posts), the best time to actually put your posts live on Facebook is between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. And on the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) it is slightly different, between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.
  4. Best Marketing Groups – So unfortunately, there are no general Facebook groups that will work for everyone. You need to find groups that are specific to your game, for example RPG lovers, or FPS Fanatics if you’re making that respective type of game. You can also take a look at this list of Indie Game Facebook Groups for anything potentially local or location specific. To find a group, just search the topic of what you’re looking for in the search box at the top of the page, and then click “See all results” and you can find ANYTHING.
  5. Case Specific Groups – Remember, developers are not your target market, but sometimes you still want to show off your game to people that will understand the struggle. In that case I like Indie Game Developers or Indie Game Promo .
  6. Relevant Pages – Can you get traffic by posting your game on other Facebook pages? Sure you can. Should you? Probably not. There are a few exceptions (find them, and use them!) but for the most part, its frowned upon to use someone else’s page as a way to promote your game, especially if it is a competing game or something similar. But even if you find pages that like or encourage it, you wont get much out of it with Facebook’s latest algorithm changes.
  7. Advertising – Facebook ads were the holy grail of advertising a few years ago. They’ve gotten more expensive in the recent years, but they are still a fantastic way to reach your audience. Facebook knows everything about you, websites you visit (that have like buttons), what you talk about, what you spend time on, what you like and dislike. You can target people based on their interest, and when you match that with your game’s genre, you can get a lot of people to play your game quick! Facebook ads will be an entire post by itself in the future, but for now you can get started in the Facebook Ad Center.

If Facebook is a private house party, Twitter is like an open bar. Unlike Facebook, which has its discovery process organized around the people you know, Twitter has its discovery process around things you find interesting, topics, or Hashtags. Just like you might search Facebook for a person, you would search Twitter for a topic. This has several key advantages, and it makes marketing on Twitter significantly easier and more effective than other places around the internet because people are naturally organized and searchable by their interests.

 

  1. Etiquette – When people follow you, they are giving your content access directly to their feed. Everyone sees EVERY Tweet in their feed, there is no algorithm, so it is important that you respect your followers feeds by not repeating the same content over and over rapidly. You should treat hashtags just like you do your followers as well – don’t abuse them or post too much, too often. It is also highly frowned upon to use Auto-DM features that message new followers directly. Posts also work much better with an image or animated GIF to show off something cool.
  2. Best Times to Post – According to Buffer (the guys that schedule social posts), The best times to tweet for clicks are the evening hours, and the best times to tweet for Retweets/Favorites is during the morning.
  3. Best Marketing Hashtags – #indiegame and #indiegames are both for people that love indie games, and they are actively looking for cool new games from unknown developers. Use these hashtags to show off your game, promote your devlogs, or generate traffic for your Game HQ. You can use #gaming -to reach people that are interested in gaming in general, so sometimes you are competing with AAA titles. Don’t let that scare you though, with the right content or image, you can stand out no problem, and get a ton of exposure from a tweet here. Use this hashtag to post links to your published game for sale or download.
  4. Case Specific Hashtags – You can use #steam for games on steam, or #madewithunity for games using the engine. You can also use #gamedev, #indiedev, or #indiedevhour (every Wednesday) if you’re looking for feedback, but again, developers are not your target market, so I wouldn’t expect these tags to have their wallets out.
  5. Active Outreach – In addition to posting places where people looking, you can actively reach out to people on Twitter that you think will be a good fit for you. For example, you can tweet or direct message journalists if you cant find their press email. You can watch what people say about similar games and reply to them directly. You can even use twitter as a research tool to see what people think about marketing methods or specific genres.
  6. Advertising – Twitter launched its ad platform fairly late into its life cycle, but sponsored tweets are surprisingly effective. They are surprisingly simple to set up, and you can target exactly who you want to see your content. How to set up and use Twitter ads effectively will be a whole different post in the future, but for now, you can get started at the Twitter Ad Center. Quick note: ONLY post ads to your game HQ, and preferably capture their info or email address when you do. Never send them to a social account or blindly somewhere you cant track their usage.

One of the most trafficed sites on the internet, and one of the oldest places online that people come together, Reddit rocks for marketing. If you haven’t been on Reddit before, essentially it is a giant community, where users can create their own sub-communities organized around topics that they love. And users of the site can subscribe to multiple topics as well. So whereas a traditional forum might only be organized around gardening for example, when you use Reddit, you can subscribe to Gardening and Game Dev and see both topics in the same feed! I love it, and I use it all the time.

 

  1. Etiquette – Reddit is a weird place. Different subreddits have different rules and different moderators with different motives. My experience has really been torn, because on one had it is a fantastic way to reach people interested in your project and get a ton of eyeballs, but its also a place that can be locked down tight, posts can disappear with no explanation, and people can be shitty. You also never know how they feel about self promotion, even when its helpful to others. Always read the sidebar, always read the sticky posts. Be aware of the rules, and if you aren’t sure, message a moderator and ask first.
  2. Best Times to Post – The best time to post on Reddit varies wildly by the subreddit, but you can check the best time using Reddit Later, a Reddit tool. Generally, Reddit gets the most traffic during the beginning of the week and the end of the week, and 9 a.m – 11 a.m. in the morning, and 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. at night. Check the tool to make sure, but generally those are the best times to post.
  3. Best Subreddits – /r/indiegaming works great for showing off your game as it progresses, although its quite small. /r/indiegames is a bit bigger, but still has a very small niche feel. If you’re looking for the bigger subreddits for video games, try  /r/gaming, /r/games, or /r/gaming4gamers, but keep in mind you’ve really got to show something awesome to stand out here, as you’re competing with the AAA titles. If you’re looking for a sale or a promotion (like a preorder bonus), try /r/GameDeals.
  4. Case Specific Subreddits – If you’re looking to show off in progress shots or share devlogs that are helpful to other developers, /r/gamedev is my favorite, and its huge.
  5. Advertising – Reddit advertising has to be highly targeted, and you have to be careful to not look spammy, low quality, or have a click bait title, but other than that its pretty effective. You can get started in the Reddit Ad Center.

Forums and Message Boards

If you haven’t heard of a forum, you probably haven’t been on the internet very long. A forum is pretty much a place where users can post topics around individual subjects. There are a lot of gaming forums out there, especially on a lot of the blogs and news sites, so its a great way to get some exposure.

 

  1. Etiquette – Forums are usually very tight knit communities. The smaller they are, the more they will see you as an outsider. The more they see you as that, the more you have to pay attention to rules and customs. Generally, you want to post and add value a few times before you post a new thread and try to promote your game. Start with maybe an introduction thread, then contribute to a few posts. Maybe even start your own discussion topic that ads value to the community. You always want to give away more then you get back in communities like this.
  2. Best Times to Post – The most effective times to post vary wildly like most of the other listings here depending on the forum, but generally the beginning of the week, in the mornings or afternoons work best in my experience.
  3. Where to Post – Finding the right forum is going to depend greatly on the genre of game that you have. The special interest and genre-specific boards are the most hardcore gamers out there, and if you’ve got an Indie Game for them you need to find those boards on your own. That being said, IGN forumsGamespot forums, and Gaming Latest have boards organized by platform.
  4. Signature – The signature on a forum is something that goes on the bottom of everything you post. It is a fantastic marketing tool, and you should make full use of it on every single forum you frequent. Ideally, you want to put a clickable link that goes directly to your Game HQ. If you’re a little more tech savvy, sending them directly to a contextually-relevant landing page designed to capture their information is even better. Next to the link, you cant a call to action, something click “Click here for the latest on Mega Monster Meatballs”. The call to action is important!!! It sounds weird I know, but people generally have to be told what to do and they are far more likely to click if you tell them to.
  5. What to Post – Once you’ve added value to the community and you want to post about your game, you should post something relevant to the community. Asking what people think is never a bad way to go, and that always turns out better than people getting mad at you for self promoting. But be prepared for the haters! If its a super relevant forum, posting and adding value to the other members, never mentioning your game (letting them see it in your signature) can be super effective too. If you want to post, make sure you keep it short and relevant, and put a call to action (what you want them to do) at the end, along with some visuals like screenshots or a video.

Streamers / YouTubers / Let's Players

Streaming and videos about gaming have become a HUGE factor in indie gaming. If your game gets played or featured by one of the top guys in this space, you can potentially get millions of people to see your game. Twitch is live streaming of this gaming content, and although YouTube has Live Streaming, it is primarily used for curated videos that people record and post. This has a split advantage, because on one hand you have major players on these sites that can play your game and get you a ton of exposure, but you can also stream and make your own videos. For simplicity sake, I’m only going to talk about reaching out to “Let’s Players” as they are called.

 

  1. Etiquette – No matter what you do, you have to remember that streamers and YouTubers are real people with real lives. Don’t be rude, don’t assume that they are going to play your game. And don’t assume that they do this for anything more than a hobby, especially for the smaller ones. The best way to contact them is politely.
  2. Best Days/Times to Contact – As somewhat of a trend in this article, the days and times to contact streamers varies greatly, because some are night owls, some are morning people. From my experience in contacting them, later in the week tends to work better (however I have no scientific backup on that claim!).
  3. Finding Them – Finding them is actually easier than you think. You can start with the big list of YouTubers and press that’s been going around for a while for more general Let’s Players. But you can follow that up with a Google, Twitch and YouTube Search for GENRE SPECIFIC peeps. Twitch and YouTube both have built-in messaging systems that work pretty well, and most channels monitor their messages, so you can treat them just like emails. You can also check Twitter accounts for users, a LOT of Let’s Players include their business email in their Twitter account.
  4. Email Subject Line – This is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the entire message, and here’s why. Imagine you get a ton of emails per day, say hundreds. You don’t have time to read them all, so you skim over them and open up an email every few listings. The emails that stand out get opened, the ones that don’t are rarely even read. Include in your subject line something that your game is or does very well, and tell them what you want. Something like “Super Spaghetti, THE MEATBALL PLATFORMER (Demo for you inside!)”. With a headline like that its clearly unique, you’re communicating what your game is, and you’re very clearly telling them the point of the whole thing.
  5. Email Body – KEEP THE BODY SHORT! You have no idea how many emails I’ve looked over that write paragraphs and paragraphs of text. You need 2 SHORT paragraphs MAX! 1st paragraph, introduce yourself, say something relevant that you like about them (be unique, not “I like your channel”…say “I saw the video on the Pizza RPG you did, thought this would interest you”). Second paragraph, what the game is, why its unique, where to download a demo, and where to get more information.
  6. Call To Action – At the very end of the email, tell them what they next step is. Most of the time, you want them to click a direct link to your game or demo. So the call to action at the end would be something like “Click Here To Play Super Unicorn Adventures Demo” with it being a link to where they can download it. Its important that you get both of those parts right, a link to the download, and a call to action to tell them to do it. ALWAYS END WITH A CALL TO ACTION! I know it doesnt seem like it is super important to tell them to click, but hundreds of studies have shown that people are far more likely to perform an action if told to do so.


Press, gaming websites, and game related blogs are great places to get some exposure from. Usually, these places will cover and review games. That is how they pull in viewers to their site, and ultimately that is how they get paid. The press and blogs are awesome because they usually have a pretty big readership, and if you can get your game covered, you get some free exposure.

 

  1. Etiquette – Press are people too. I know it may not seem like that when you are getting to launch your game and you’re terrified of these all-powerful beings that you think control the fate of your game, but trust me, they’re just people. That said, treat them like people. Be personable, friendly, and non-robotic. Depending on the scale of the press outlet or blog, this also very likely could be a business for them. Remember, they are in the industry of getting eyeballs. If your game can help them get more views and clicks, they will love you, so frame the things you say around that.
  2. Best Days/Times to Contact – All of the personal experience I’ve had around contacting press outlets specifically has been later in the week and earlier in the morning. Monday morning they are slammed with emails and playing catch up with last week. During the end of the week though, things settle down and less emails come in, great opportunity for you.
  3. Finding Them – A simple Google search for “Indie Game Blogs” or “Video Game Blogs” would do wonders, but you can also check Pixel Prospector’s list of Indie Game sites. Actually getting a hold of press is usually pretty easy. No matter what site you’re looking at, there is almost always a contact or submission link somewhere on the page. You may have to scroll all the way to the bottom and/or hunt around a bit, but its there. Games press has PR contacts when you create an account,
  4. Email Subject Line – This is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART of the entire message, and here’s why. Imagine you get a ton of emails per day, say hundreds. You don’t have time to read them all, so you skim over them and open up an email every few listings. The emails that stand out get opened, the ones that don’t are rarely even read. Include in your subject line something that your game is or does very well, and tell them what you want. Something like “Super Spaghetti, THE MEATBALL PLATFORMER (Demo for you inside!)”. With a headline like that its clearly unique, you’re communicating what your game is, and you’re very clearly telling them the point of the whole thing.
  5. Email Body – KEEP THE BODY SHORT! You have no idea how many emails I’ve looked over that write paragraphs and paragraphs of text. You need 2 SHORT paragraphs MAX! 1st paragraph, introduce yourself, say something relevant that you like about them (be unique, not “I like your channel”…say “I saw the video on the Pizza RPG you did, thought this would interest you”). Second paragraph, what the game is, why its unique, where to download a demo, and where to get more information. Also make sure you include a few screenshots, a link to your trailer, and a link to your press kit if you can.
  6. Call To Action – At the very end of the email, tell them what they next step is. Most of the time, you want them to click a direct link to your game or demo. So the call to action at the end would be something like “Click Here To Play Super Unicorn Adventures Demo” with it being a link to where they can download it. Its important that you get both of those parts right, a link to the download, and a call to action to tell them to do it. ALWAYS END WITH A CALL TO ACTION! I know it doesn’t seem like it is super important to tell them to click, but hundreds of studies have shown that people are far more likely to perform an action if told to do so.

Search Engines

Its hard to imagine what the internet would be like without search engines. After all, we search the internet for literally everything we can think of, multiple times a day. But what if someone is searching to play a game like yours? We’re going to go over some things you can do to make sure they not only find your game, but purchase it as well.

 

  1. Etiquette – So search engines are just machines, and machines can be tricked. But you never want to trick a search engine, for 2 reasons. First, they are updated all the time, and if you get on top of a search engine the wrong way, you wont stay there for long. Second, people want relevance. If you game your way to the top with something irrelevant, you wont make any sales, because you’re not what they’re looking for.  Don’t try and cheat your way to the top, do it the hard slow way. Its worth it.
  2. The concept of SEO – So optimizing for a search engine is actually easier than it sounds. There are just a few mental shifts that have to take place for you to understand how everything fits together and what you can do to improve it. The first thing to note is that you think in terms of what a customer searches to find you. Most people brag about their optimization because when you search their company name or game name, they show up number one in the search results. But if customers are searching your name, you’ve already done your marketing, because they’ve heard your name before somewhere else. Most of the planet has NOT heard of your game, so they will search for the kinds of games they like. For example, they’ll search for “fun casual games” or “hard platformers”. Keep this in mind when you are preparing all of your press and marketing materials, as appealing to the people that are actively looking for you is one of the easiest sales to make if you do it right.
  3. Keyword Research – Probably the single most important part of search marketing, researching the right keywords plays a critical role on how well you do on search engines. If you pick the wrong keywords, not only will most ad networks penalize you for not serving useful content, but you’ll also waste a ton of money because people were searching for something other than what you have. Generally, you want to look for longer, lower trafficked SPECIFIC search terms, they tend to work better than general terms. Think about it, if someone searches “buy hard casual games” they are much more likely to buy your hard casual game, then if they searched “games” (or even worse, “free games”). Always get as specific as possible if you can. There are a few ways you can research keywords, get ideas for new ones, and look at search volume. Google has an official keywords tool, but my favorite is actually SpyFu. That one lets you look at all of your competitors keywords. Why not let them do all the hard work??
  4. On-page Optimization –  So whenever you are writing headlines for devlogs, descriptions on game portals, or even captions on your screenshots, you are writing text that will be read by search engines, and you want to make sure that they understand what your game is and what its about, so they can serve it to the right people when they search for it. Now this is a slippery slope, because you also want to optimize for the actual humans reading that text, you don’t just want random keywords in an unreadable pile of text, but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a few of your researched keywords here and there. Generally you want them in the title of your web page (if you control that), your head line, and in the first paragraph of your body. It takes some practice to learn to write for your audience while also using your keywords, but its not as hard as it sounds, just don’t go overboard.
  5. Off-page Optimization – This is the part almost EVERYONE misses, and yet it accounts for 70% to 80% of the actual search rankings Google gives you. Off-page optimization is the act of building incoming links to your site, but also including your keywords in the anchor text of those links. For example, instead of just making the URL of your game the actual link, you can make it read something like “Meatball Mayhem: The Super Hard Platformer”. That way, Google knows what your site is generally about. And the more of these types of links it finds, the more associated with that keyword you become. The best way to do this is to get press or blogs to cover and link to your game, but you can also do this by posting and sharing on social media, putting the link to your game in your forum signatures, and even interlinking your own games or websites to each other.
  6. Advertising – Search advertising is one of the best performing types of direct sale ads, because if someone is searching for your type of game, chances are they want to play it ASAP. Bigger search engines like Google have gotten a bit expensive over the years, but if you know that your game sells and it has a proven track record, search advertising is a great way to boost sales. Google Adwords has the most traffic, but the bing network, and AOL (believe it or not) are actually pretty good networks.

Game Portals and Distribution Platforms

Game portals are hubs around the internet that have a ton of gamers just waiting to play your game. But picking the right one for your game, or even posting on multiple portals can be a process that leaves you second guessing everything. Some indies want to only post one place and send all the traffic there, others want to post their game in as many places as they can. The best option is up to your game type, and ultimately how organized you want to be, but instead of touching that I’ll stick to what you need to know.

 

  1. Etiquette – Game portals are pretty open and accepting when it comes to games. Most of them are geared around actually playing games though, so be careful if you are posting things that are incomplete or broken. Always check the submission rules and make sure you’re not stepping on any toes. And this goes without saying, but please never steal assets or other’s work and publish on a portal like this, that’s a good way to go down quick.
  2. Best Days/Times to Post – Game portals, especially the web portals have higher traffic during lunch hours and during the evenings…but that being said, your particular factors are more important than waiting for arbitrary times. Also keep in mind that a lot of modern game portals have algorithms to promote your game based on how popular it is. It sounds weird, but if your game does well in the first hour or day its live, the portals are much more likely to promote your game, because that means a bigger cut or more ad revenue for them.
  3. Figure Out Where You Belong – So just like most places on the internet, you should always do a little digging and a bit of research on whatever game portal you are thinking of putting your game on. A lot of game portals out there are web or HTML5 only and don’t accept all games, so that’s important right out of the gate. But in addition to that, different portals have different demographics. For example, Steam has an older demographic with more money to spend, Kongregate is mostly free games. On average, iOS game players buy more premium games and spend more money, whereas android games work much better with ads.
  4. Understand Who/What You’re Writing For – You have to understand who is going to be looking at your game and why. Understanding the discovery process of how someone would find your game is important. For example, if someone searches “HARD PLATFORMERS” in Steam search, does your game show up? If it does, is what you wrote compelling to that person? Learn the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that you know what keywords people use to find you, and optimize for them. But also optimize for your target market. Don’t just write a random description and be done with it.
  5. What You Should Post – In addition to a really descriptive and search friendly paragraph about your game, you’re also going to want a few other things to catch your players attention. Specifically, there are 3 things you need. First, you’re going to need a good trailer. If you’re not a video guy, this can be scary, but don’t overthink it. Keep it short, show off some of the coolest game play, maybe tell a bit of the story in text or voice over, and they put a call to action at the end, something like “Buy Now”. Secondly, you need some compelling screenshots. They need to show off the coolest parts of your game, and remember that you can add cool graphics or text on them to explain how awesome that shot is, or illustrate a feature of your game. And lastly, you need and a link where people can go if they need help. This is a huge mistake I see developers make all the time, they don’t provide a link to their email or a support page, and when someone has a problem with their game, the only thing left for the player to do is leave a bad review. Don’t let that happen to you.
  6. Set Your Expectations Properly – So if you are reading this post and interested in marketing, you likely don’t buy into the idea that if you publish, magically you will get millions of downloads overnight and all your problems will get solved. But a lot of indies still believe this…they think that if they can just get on Steam and publish, they’ll get all the downloads and customers they will ever need. This is just not true. Do not expect to publish on a game portal and get lots of players immediately. Like I mentioned before, most portals have algorithms in place to promote your game more often if it is likely to bring in sales, so maximize your traffic in your launch window. Platforms like Steam for example watch very closely what your game does in the couple of hours, and if you do well, it starts to promote your game everywhere. If you do badly, you don’t make Steam any money so they show better performing games in place of yours in their promotion slots.

Advertising Networks

One of the easiest and most effective ways to get people to see and play your game is to just buy their eyeballs for a few seconds. Ads are a great way to get some exposure, but they also have a down side: cost. I’m going to walk you through the pros and cons, what it takes to write a great ad, and where to post it if you’ve got a budget.

 

  1. Etiquette – All of the legit ad networks will be pretty strict with the guidelines for the ad you’re putting up, so you want to make sure you have a good idea of what entices your target audience and what they like. If your ad looks scammy, or doesn’t perform well at all, or doesn’t meet the content guidelines, some of the networks may even take it down. Don’t insult a users intelligence, but do not assume that they have any clue what you are talking about. Target correctly and understand your audience so that you know what words they use and use their words to market to them.
  2. What Does An Effective Ad Campaign Look like? – So anyone can set up an ad and blow their money on some traffic. But it is an art and a science to write a great ad and get it to convert into sales for your game consistently. And that is what your after, not one sale here or there, you want CONSISTENT sales with consistent ads. So an effective ad structure looks something like this. First, your ad should only be shown to people who are interested in your product, and it should be designed to capture that one persons attention and make them click. Once you get them to click, they should go to a landing page. That landing page needs to have no distractions, ideally not even navigation, and the only thing they can actually do there is buy your game. DO NOT run ads for likes on Facebook, or promote your post. Those ads don’t work for consistent sales. The way to make this system work, is to constantly test your ad with another similar ad, and compare click throughs. You copy that ad and change something, then run it against the first ad. And repeat that process daily or weekly until you have an epic ad. And you should do the same thing with the landing page if you can, although that is harder to do.
  3. When to Use Ads – Paid advertising has its place in marketing but it only serves 2 purposes: 1) You are testing the interest of a target audience or the effectiveness of a particular ad…or 2) You have a confirmed working strategy, marketing material, and landing page and you are making more money than you are spending. That’s it, no exceptions. If you are writing ads, setting a budget, and just sitting back and watching what happens, you are doing it wrong. If you are in the testing phase, every day or 2 you need to be revising your ad and split testing between the previous ad and your new one, constantly iterating to a better ad. If your ad is getting better but your sales are not, you need to do the same thing with the landing page. And ALWAYS use a landing page.
  4. Writing a Great Ad – Most great ads follow the A.I.D.A formula, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Not all ads can fit this formula perfectly as there are many shapes and sizes out there, but for textual ads this works great. So here’s what you want to do:
    1. Grab their ATTENTION – with a headline. It should be contextually relevant, so for example if they searched “Best Mobile Games” then your ad would say something like “MEGA MEATBALLS – The Best Mobile Game of All Time”. DO NOT COPY that headline, because it is only likely to work for that keyword, but you get the idea. It should either match what they are searching for or it should play up something that the player wants in your type of game.
    2. Get their INTEREST – usually with the first line of the ad, talk about what the game is (like “Tough-as-nails Platformer”), or describe something short and to the point that gets the game across. If you targeted it right, this will generate a bit of excitement and curiosity.
    3. Grow their DESIRE – depending on the ad, you usually build desire by listing some of the cool unique features that your game has, like “Murder Your Friends in this Lightening Fast Mashup of Meatball Mayhem!”.
    4. Get them to take ACTION – normally called a “Call to Action” or CTA, you essentially tell them what the next step is, like “Play Now!” or “Download Now!”. Don’t forget this part! Always tell them the next step, or they’ll forget about you and move on to whatever else flashes on their screen.
  5. The Big Guy Ad Networks – If (AND ONLY IF) you have a game ready to sell or promote, and you are ready to test or ready to grow an existing working campaign, the bigger ad networks may help. They tend to be more expensive, but they also control more eyeballs than anyone. You can try out Google Adwords, Ad Exchange (by Google)YouTube Ads, or Yahoo/Bing Ads. Here’s a huge list of other ad providers as well.
  6. Desktop Game Ads – Any ad platform for desktop and PC games tends to be hard to find, much more niche, and for some reason not very user friendly. But a few networks you can use to advertise your desktop games are Epic Game Ads, Venatus Media, and PlayWire.
  7. Mobile Game Ads – If you’ve got a mobile game, you can try AdMobChartBoost, or TapJoy. There is a huge list of ad networks over at Think Gaming as well.
  8. Alternate Uses of Ads – There are a lot of ways you can use ads. We’ve only talked about buying them and sending them straight to a landing page here, but there are a few other alternatives. For one, you can act

Trade Shows / Conferences / Events

So I know a lot of us game developers are socially awkward and would prefer to sit behind a computer screen all day instead of meeting real people, but live events are a fantastic way to market your game. In addition to actually getting your name out there, they are also fantastic for seeing how people react to the game and it’s marketing material, and getting real, honest feedback about what players see.

 

  1. Etiquette – We’re going to assume that you have a booth or a spot at an event, as most of the etiquette if you don’t is simple social skills like shaking hands, eye contact, taking interest in them, etc. But assuming you have a booth, you want to be outside of it (or in it if its an open floor plan) and engaging people that walk by. Don’t be scared of talking to people, they are there for games, and you have one. Don’t be intrusive and obnoxious, just be polite and make eye contact, then engage and ask them if they want to try your game. When they start to play, give them any basic info they need (like story up until now, or controls) and don’t hover over them. DO NOT jump in to try and explain where they should go or jump in the game, watch them, learn from what they do. Also pay attention to how people react to your marketing materials, what they think the game is about, etc.
  2. Thing’s You’ll Need – The ABSOLUTE ESSENTIALS here are your game (duh), a way to play your game, and some kind of signage with your game art and tagline. I also recommend that you get something to pass out (like custom pens, flash drives, business cards, stuff with your name on it) and take email address so that you can market to them later, but a simple iPad with a Mailchimp Free Account will do the trick there. If the venue doesn’t offer free WiFi (almost all of them do) then a simple clipboard will work fine.
  3. Which Events to Attend – This one is simple, attend the ones that either interest you, or will have your target market present there. But how do you find them you ask? Here is a HUGE list of events organized by location and date.
  4. Costs – Your costs for the event vary depending on which one you go to, but its not too bad. Something like PAX costs about $1,250 for a 10 by 10 booth, but also varies by which PAX you go to. Also keep in mind food costs and whatever it takes you to get the marketing materials printed.
  5. Transportation – Getting to and from the event is always pretty simple, but if you’ve never done an event before it can be scary. Most of the time, Indies drive to the event, so they have their car and they have a way to transport their stuff. If you don’t drive there, you can use Uber or Lyft for a quick ride from where you’re staying to the event (it almost ALWAYS cheaper than Taxi rides). When I had a lot of equipment I called one of the bigger Uber cars and they were super cool about letting us load up our stuff. I would check with them first.
  6. Accommodation – Hotels can get expensive really quick, especially during events and especially when you need more than one room. I’ve used AirBNB with great success, and there are some really cool places to stay on the cheap, especially in places like San Francisco where accommodation costs are insane. Although I’ve never personally used it, I LOVE the idea of Indie Couch, a cool way to crash on another developers couch for free during events. And the guy that runs it is pretty awesome! I’ve also used Couch Surfing with great success, although its not for everyone.
  7. Indie Mega Booth – If you’re looking to split costs with other indies during an event and be a part of something awesome, I would highly recommend you check out Indie Mega Booth. The idea is simple, they buy a mega booth, and split it up with other developers into really small show areas.

 

Conclusion

That should (hopefully) point you in the right direction as far as marketing. Is there a ton more that I didn’t cover here? You betcha! But the entire breadth of marketing knowledge is too big to put into one post. I did what I could to distill it down to the fundamentals of what you need to do.

 

Did I miss anything? Anything you would ad? Let me know down below in the comments!

 

 

Tim Ruswick

Tim Ruswick is the founder of Game Dev Underground and the author of the Game-Maker's Manifesto.

  • Have you started marketing your game yet? How’d you do? What’s one thing you learned?