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  • Postmortem: Altidudes

    [04.06.21]
    - Jonathan Ribarro

  • Marketing

    What Went Right

    I read articles, took a class, and researched endlessly how other indies did their marketing. The people who helped me the most were: Victoria Tran, Gabe Dal Santo, Simon Carless, and Chris Zukowski. They are all absolutely brilliant at what they do, and the nuggets of wisdom they offered in their blog posts, articles, and newsletter posts were invaluable. I recommend anyone who is unfamiliar with any of those names follow them, sign up for their newsletters, watch their GDC talks, all of it. I took a marketing class by Gabe, which introduced me to the world of marketing. I also signed up to the newsletter of Chris, and everything he sends out there is EXTREMELY relevant, so do us a favor and sign up, you won't regret it. I read a lot of articles and blog posts by Simon and Victoria, and I learned a lot.  I'm sure you will too.

    What Went Wrong

    I am not good at marketing, even with everything I learned. Of course, I'm doing my best given what I have learned but Altidudes hasn't sold terrifically well on Steam/Itch.io. This could be because the game works much better as a quick game you can play on the toilet, rather than on your big l33t gamer rig. It could be because I didn't reach enough people when I was doing all my marketing. Maybe I didn't pay enough for Bing ads? I don't know for sure, but marketing isn't a one-time deal, it's something you gotta nurture for a long while.

    What I Did (BONUS SECTION)

    I'll list out everything I can remember doing for marketing, so you can get an idea of where my numbers are coming from:

    1. Twitter - I have a Twitter account with a following of ~200 as of writing this. I'd approximate about 3 of those followers are active. This is to stress that the number on Twitter really isn't important, because that's not where the sales are. I made a bunch of announcements there to places like #gamedev, #pico8, and things like that. One of the most important things I think I have done is helping gamedev at large, and I did this by publicizing my Trello board where I did project management. I should also mention that I usually kept a tweet about my game pinned to the top of my profile, and I had a link to my website in my bio.
    2. Newsletter Creation - I heard newsletters are pretty metal, so I made one of my own and put it on my website. The service I used to make my website, Wix, was doing a promotion where they gave out coupons for ads, so I used one for Google, and another for Bing/Microsoft. The deal was if I paid $25 they would give me $100 worth of ads for free. So I paid up and I made ads that directed users to the homepage of my website, where the newsletter was. To this day I don't know how many are bots, and how many are real humans. I got ~95 subscribers to a Mailchimp newsletter when the money ran dry, and I didn't pay anything more for ads beyond that.
    3. The Press - I sent out some keys to Curators on Steam and outlets I figured might be interested in my game.  I came up with 4 news sites which were: Game Raven Review, Game Skinny, Bonus Stage, and Indie Game Buzz. I emailed all of these places after the game was released, so to my knowledge, no articles have been written. I also made a presskit using a handy tool on Itch.io, and I have used it quite a few times since then, so it was worth it.
    4. LinkedIn - I didn't intend for this one to have a big effect, but I wanted to do it anyway. I made a company page and updated it, shared the posts through my personal account, and it reached a few people in my network which was all I really wanted. The numbers for engagement were abysmal, I think my first announcement post got 3-4 'likes', and the actual release date announcement got 3.
    5. Steam Optimization - I did some hard research on tags and how I could best please the Steam algorithm. Honestly, I think I did good enough because as of this writing I have ~75 wishlists, and the game got like ~80K impressions, if the stats are right. The one lesson I took away from others is that you wanna stay as far away from the 'Indie' tag on Steam as possible, and that's what I did. Other than that I just picked out the tags most closely matching my game, and let Steam do the rest.
    6. Trailer - I figured since everyone else had them that I needed one too. I was just browsing around on Twitter one day and found Gary, dm'd him, and then that was it. Painless process, and he was very good at it too. I haven't bothered checking the numbers for the Youtube video that I posted, BUT in the comments I posted a link to the game page on Steam and asked people to wishlist it.

    Business/Legal

    This one was a lot. When I went to school, I learned how to make games for a AAA company, not as an indie. I didn't learn business, marketing, legal, or any of the stuff you need to know as a serious solo developer. I had a lot of research to do, so I started with the business. I incorporated an LLC in New Jersey (my homestate) and that was it.

    For legal, I knew I wanted a trademark for the game title, because I read it's a good thing to do. One problem I had though is that I didn't know anything about lawyers. My family tried to hook me up with a lawyer friend, but when I heard the number they wanted for me to purchase their services, I was shocked to be quite honest. So with that one a definite no, I looked elsewhere. I searched the USPTO website and trademarks, then I just looked up popular video games I happened to like and took a gander at what lawyers were hired for trademarking. I made a spreadsheet of lawyers and called a few of them. I won't name this one, but he seemed quite mean on the phone (I also had no idea how to talk to a lawyer, so I may have been wasting his time). Brandon Huffman was the next one I spoke to, and I found him on Twitter. We didn't go further after we talked, but I want to stress it's important not to burn bridges in this industry, because everybody knows somebody. I spoke to Daniel Koburger next. I decided to go with him because he was very forthright, honest, and helpful. My gut told me he was the right one, and we have been working together ever since.

    The Time

    Mountain Climber was created in November, 2019. I would say I started transitioning the game to 'Altidudes' in December of that year, so I was working on it for ~1.1 years. BUT, I didn't work on this full-time, because I had another office job I was doing at the same time. I put myself on an hour a day program, where I would do any sort of extra work I could for at least an hour a day, and that was how I made Altidudes for a long time before becoming a jobless bum in March. Once April hit and I got the company, I started working on Altidudes more and more. I am lucky enough to live with my family, so my expenses are basically $0.

    The Bill

    Making video games is not cheap, and Altidudes was no exception. Even with how small it was, it still cost a lot of money! I also want to mention this first: I could not have made this game without having a full-time office job prior to it's creation. That job paid way more than indie dev money, but in March 2020 I had to leave because of Covid-19. I made enough money to actually do things, so I used some of it to make Altidudes, and that's the only reason this game exists as it does.

    Ads: $50 total

    Engine purchase: $30 total (Bought extra copy)

    Music/audio: $437

    Marketing class: $439

    Legal: $2250

    Trailer: $160

    Steam Submission: $100

    iOS Developer account: $100(per year)

    There were other costs associated with the business, but I wanna leave those out. For those curious, it was very roughly ~$500

    Total: ~$4,000

    All in all, I'm proud of what Altidudes has become. Financially, no, it will not support me and perhaps never will. But that's not why I made the game. I made it because I could.

    I hope this is helpful to you, and good luck on your gamedev journey! I can't wait to see what you create.

    Good luck friend,
    Jonathan

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