Tons of new games are released everyday on all major platforms. In 2018 and beyond, competition and over saturation is a reality. Understanding how to effectively promote your game to players who will best enjoy it is something we all need to become familiar with.
In no particular order, the below tips are aimed at industry newbies and veterans. With almost 4 years of experience working exclusively with indie studios, we've learned many things over the years and hopefully the below tips are helpful to anyone that reads this.
While Steam is the most popular digital distribution platform in the world, it doesn't mean it's the only platform you should sell your game on. In fact, I would recommend only linking to the platform that gives you the most revenue per sale when promoting your game. For example, the Humble Widget (not to be confused with the Humble Store) gives developers a 95/5 revenue split. This means you earn 95% of net sales when your average distribution platform (including Steam) would give you only 70%.
Years ago, the 70/30 revenue split had value as there was less competition on the platform and more exposure being given to you via the platform. With that being said, Steam has recently lowered the barrier to entry for new developers to sell games on their platform to $100, which has resulted in more games being released at a higher frequency than ever before. While the number of peak concurrent users on Steam has grown from 14.21 million in January 2017 to 18.5 million in January 2018, the platform doesn't scale visibility for each game (unless you sell very well during your launch period).
Also, many years ago, there was weight behind the statement "our game is coming to Steam on X date". Now, this statement holds zero weight (other than your actual release date). Launching on Steam is as easy as ever, which means it doesn't mean anything to the media. With that being the case, I recommend when promoting your game and attempting to earn coverage from media that you link to something like your website (with the Humble widget) or itch.io to earn more revenue per sale.
I'm not saying you shouldn't launch your game on Steam. I think it's still smart to announce that your game is coming to Steam (and if it's launching on other platforms, you can list them as well), I'm just saying it makes business sense to only link to the store that gives you the most per sale. With over saturation being a reality, I think this tactic is a requirement in making the most out of your launch.
Attending major industry events is a great opportunity if you can afford it, but don't feel like you have to pay for a booth to make your time at the event worth it. If your goal is to show off your game to potential consumers, you can still attend events outside of major industry events and just bring your laptop and load your game up (we noticed this happening this year at GDC parties). It's a great way to save on costs and still gets you in front of potential players.
If your goal is to network, just paying for the expo pass can be good enough to get you to where you need to be. In fact, with services like Meet to Match, you can schedule meetings at events with attendees off-site and skip the expo pass all together. However, I recommend getting an expo pass at the minimum as it's exciting to explore and can be inspiring.
Basically, if you have a tight budget, there are ways to achieve your goals without having to spend much (if anything).
If you do end up with a booth at an event like PAX, a quick tip is that height is a premium. With so much foot traffic, you want fans, community members and potential players to be able to spot your game as far away as possible. Also, don't hesitate to get creative. For example, if you have a pillar or wall near your booth, you might be able to use a projector to draw attention to the area. There are also low-cost options to draw attention to your booth (Ex: cheap Christmas lights to wrap around your monitors/booth).
If you're trying to build a pure list of potential players, it's best to not include a giveaway as an incentive. It's pretty obvious, but giving away a TV at an expo and requiring participants to sign up to your email list is a quick way to build a weak list. An old fashion sign-up sheet is still an excellent way to build a good list of people who are genuinely interested in your game.
If you aren't already doing so, you need to start building a community for your game. With so much competition and less opportunities for visibility, building a community is one of the last things you can actually control. For example, when approaching media with news beats, once you hit send, it's up to the person you contacted to do the rest. When you reach out to a streamer and give them a Steam key to your game, it's then up to them to download your game, play it and possibly stream it.
These are things that you can't 100% control, but community is one of the last things that you can control. You can engage with your community, they can communicate with you and together, you can build an awesome framework that pays off when it's time to launch your game or your next major update.
We prefer to use Discord as it's growing in popularity and it's very easy to use and setup. However, the takeaway here is to build a community. You can do this wherever you feel comfortable.
It's kind of weird typing this when I do a ton of PR for indies, but this is a very true statement. If your marketing material isn't good, you can't expect results from a any PR team or individual to be good. Even if a PR team can get you coverage from major media outlets and large content creators, if your game looks rough (gameplay, low-quality trailer, bad screenshots, low-quality store page etc..), you can't expect users to convert into players.
In marketing, if you don't have goals, you're doing it wrong. Every announcement needs to have a thoughtful goal behind it. For example, are you announcing your game to just earn short-term attention? Of course not! When announcing your game, you should have a goal for your audience to do something after noticing your game announcement. This can be signing up to your newsletter, joining your Discord community, following you on social media for more updates or something else.
This applies to every public facing event. If there's no goal, it's not worth doing.
This is a tip that was given to me by Mike Rose at GDC this year. It was a very simple tip, but it was huge. It's something you don't think about, but it can help your game, career or even business hugely.
For example, if you plan on launching your game on PlayStation, they offer a ton of different opportunities to help you promote your game. However, if you don't ask about them, you can't expect your account manager to go out of their way to bring these opportunities to you. There are just too many games releasing too frequently to offer opportunities to everyone.
This is something that publishers and partners do that sometimes looks like magic on the outside, but in fact, all they did was ask the right person what opportunities were available.
This is something I try to do often. For example, with this post, I included the video for people that prefer to watch videos vs reading a lengthy blog post. I also included a Soundcloud version for people that want to just listen vs read or watching the 30 minute video.
In PR, we do this with media and content creators. First, we evaluate their needs and problems. For traditional media, they need a unique news story that will earn readers attention (which results in more impressions that earns more revenue for the publications they are writing for). We also know that members of the media have very full inboxes and constantly have to deal with them. This is why we write concise messages that are to the point. We also try to grab their attention within the first few words we write. We are doing this because we put ourselves in the shoes of writers and want to help them by providing them with newsworthy content in a concise way. We also link to further media and information to make it even easier for the writer to publish a story.
In marketing, we do this with anyone that we are speaking to. This includes consumers, press, content creators and any other amplifiers that can help us spread our message.
Speaking further on putting ourselves in the shoes of writers, it's good to give them a heads up before publishing a press release. If I was a writer at a gaming publication, I would hate having to quickly write stories based off of press releases I was given or found at the last minute. My content wouldn't be as good and my competitors would possibly beat me to the punch. However, if I was given a day or two to write a nice story based off of your announcement, my content would most likely be better and the process would be less stressful.
This is something I definitely need to work on. In marketing, we specialize in communication that hopefully results in sales. However, the world in general is full of content and distractions, so we need to be concise and impactful with our content. It saves everyone time and increases your chances of getting your words heard. This applies to everything from banner ads to press releases and everything else that involves you communicating the value of your game to earn the attention of potential players.
I bet you've heard the phrase "learn from your mistakes" or "learn from your competitor's mistakes". I like to look at it the other way and learn from successes. With our friendly search engine, Google, we can literally follow the PR timeline for any game we want. We can sort and filter by specific dates and use advanced search queries to find moments along the production cycle of any game and see the results of their announcements. We can see what publications covered what announcement and we can document this information and learn from it.
This is the process we take when building press lists for our clients.
This is fairly obvious, but it needs to be said. Quality is almost always better than quantity. In this particular tip, I apply this idea to targeted outreach. When reaching out to media and content creators to cover your game, it's best to find perfect matches (individuals and groups that genuinely enjoy games like yours). More times than not, this results in better content that also results in more sales.
If you have social media accounts, a YouTube channel, a blog, a Discord channel etc... they all need to be connected. You want all potential players of your game to be able to not only find you, but when they do find you, there's other places for them to go and consume more content, engage with a community, share their own thoughts etc..
Everyone knows that YouTube has made it harder and harder to monetize content for many content creators in the video game space. With that being said, if you don't have budget to pay for content creators, it's still worth reaching out to them. I've noticed a thought process that all content creators cost money now days and it's simply not true.
This is where quality > quantity. If your media outreach is incredibly targeted (it takes a while to do, I know, but it's worth it), then your results might be surprising. For example, if you're working on a Souls-like game, it's absolutely worth it to identify content creators and writers that enjoy the Souls game and send your game to them. Also, let them know why you're reaching out to them in particular. It goes a long way to show that you've done your research and aren't another spammer trying to shove a random game down everyone's throat.
If you can't dedicate enough time to constantly update your Twitter account or dev blog, then shut it down. Only be active on platforms that you can afford time to update on a consistent basis. Marketing is like a flywheel. It takes time to get the wheel moving and if you don't have time to get things off the ground, you won't see amazing results. On the flip side, if you're investing time into a platform and are seeing small but steady growth and have time to continue to update it, stay with it.
Once you get to a certain point, it gets easier as your following grows. Just like everything else in life, you can't expect to succeed right away. Success takes time.
The indie game industry in particular is a helpful one. If you are stuck or have random questions, I can guarantee there's an industry veteran that would be happy to answer your question. Just try to keep things private (Ex: Email instead of a public tweet).
This is something I come across often and I understand it, but I also would like it to stop. If you do decide to work with a partner for marketing support, please know your budget and be open and upfront about it. This isn't a used car purchase. For example, we tend to work with partners on a $3 - $8k/Mo budget. Anything lower tends to not be worth our time investment.
This isn't said to push anyone away. It's just a fact and a way to save time. When approaching a potential partner, don't be afraid to tell them what you can afford. The worst thing they can say is that they can't do it. However, they might be able to refer you to someone else that can. Also, hiding information like your budget immediately puts your business relationship on rocky roads as there's now trust issues.
If you have particular media sites or content creators that you would love to see cover your game, then it's worth checking in and seeing what kind of content they typically produce. With media, it's nice to see what other games that are similar in scope are doing to earn content and similarly with streamers, it's nice to see what your favorite streamer is enjoying most. This can help you come up with unique news beats that you might not have thought of.
First, you should have a press list (media, streamers, YouTubers etc..). Second, this list needs to be updated and managed on a consistent basis. Many writers change publications or even leave the industry. Content creators do the same thing, so it's best to stay on top of your list and make sure that when you're sending out your newsworthy content, that it's going to active members of the industry.
Again, I hope you enjoyed this list of tips! If you have any questions or requests for future content, please don't hesitate to ask in the comment section below.