Last week Ryan and I were talking about general social media stuff. Ryan by the way, is my awesome side-kick and behind the scenes mastermind running all of our social media. The convo quickly segued into general marketing stuff. Not too hard to do since these days social media is invariably intertwined with any and all marketing. We’re always looking for ways to be a helpful resource for our HeroCloud devs and in talking about our HeroCloud devs and the games they are developing One area where Ryan and I felt devs might want some tips, is marketing. I mentioned in passing, “it’s never too early to think of marketing.” I’m definitely not the first marketing person to say this, and I won’t be the last, but I think it’s a statement worth harping on for a bit. It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle devs tend to think about last, often when it’s too late, preferring instead to focus (and rightly so) on making their games awesome.
“The ‘M’ Word”
That being said, marketing doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Dan E Grey wrote a thoughtful post titled Indie Games and the ‘M’ Word last year that I think deserves mentioning. First off, there really is something to be said about the ‘M’ word. Not just indie game devs, but many entrepreneurs and small business owners are scared off, or simply don’t want to deal with, the word “marketing.” Unlike (or maybe very much like) coding, marketing can be a pretty elusive concept. Marketing involves putting not just our product out their, but yourself. These days, the two are very closely interlinked. As Dan Grey and others have mentioned, putting yourself out there means also putting a personality that represents you, your game and your studio out in the public eye. Andrew Smith of Spilt Milk Studios says it best in his recent article on Gamasutra:
“As an indie, one of the major factors you’ve got going for you — one that bigger companies struggle to harness effectively — is that you have a personality. It doesn’t have to be yours, although with Spilt Milk I make certain it is mine. What this boils down to is that you must have a very strong, consistent voice with which to communicate your message.”
This is what branding is all about, and when you are so closely tied to your product, as indie devs are, it can be a scary thing. Not to mention, it’s quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if you believe your game is the best thing since Mindcraft, others must as well. However, with all the noise out there, and shortening consumer attention spans (see below), you and your lovely game are competing against hundreds and hundreds of great games. Marketing doesn’t have to be a dirty word. And once you get into it, it can actually be quite fun. Engaging and interacting with your fans on facebook and twitter for example, can actually be really useful, and even help make your game better. By enlisting your fans feedback and advice during various stages of your game development, you can incorporate, or even get better ideas for the direction your game should take. The power of your fans should not be understated. Your feedback loop is effectively shortened thanks to real-time feedback from the Internet.
“It doesnt require a budget of millions to tell the world about your game”
The key, and simplest thing to do, is to just start somewhere. Many of you probably came across this vimeo video put up by IGDA Scotland last year. Brian Baglow’s entertaining speech pinpoints how lucky indie devs are today compared to the “old days” when one had to work at a big studio. (If anything, just watch the video to listen to Brian Baglow’s fantastic Scottish accent.) There are myriads of opportunties available to indie devs these days to put your game out there. Social media is one of the greatest inventions for small-time studios with limited budgets. It’s free afterall.
The basic ingredients to your marketing strategy at this stage should involve alot of time, consistency and dedication. And as Paul Taylor of Mode 7 Games bluntly states in his 2009 Gamasutra article Building Buzz for Indie Games:
“Obscurity is literally the worst thing that can possibly happen to you and your game. Notoriety is better. Public hatred is arguably better. Seriously. At least people remember Limbo of the Lost.”
He goes on to say,
“Marketing anything takes a lot of time and effort. Most small indies skew their efforts far too far towards production and away from marketing: this is one of the reasons why so few are a genuine commercial success, and why many high-quality games generate minimal revenue.”
Although Taylor’s article is a few years old (it was published in 2009), the article is full of valuable advice and takes you through key steps to getting your indie game known and out in the public eye. Everything from initial announcements to talking with bloggers is covered. The reading list he includes at the end is also very worth diving into.
“How to Tell the World About Your Game”
In the spirit of “starting somewhere, ” let’s get practical. After all, just thinking about marketing, as the title of my post might suggest, won’t get you very far. Where should you start, especially if you’re starting from scratch? Ben Ward, founder of a relatively new indie studio called Hogrocket, has some specific advice. Ward summarizes his indie marketing presentation made at Develop Brighton last year over on GamesBrief. In his three-part series, Ward goes through important phases of marketing as an indie developer. Ben lays out practical questions and steps on how to analyze the marketplace, build your message and put it out there. His advice is pretty succint, and all stuff you’ve probably heard before: blog regularly, video blog, build an email list, use social media and attend events and conferences. Ward takes it a step further and goes through practical tips and strategies that he himself uses. If you’re already doing most of the things Ben mentions, then you’re probably on the right track. If you’re not getting the results you were hoping for, don’t get discouraged. Building your fan base on Facebook for example, can take time. Just stay consistent. As with coding, you might not get it right the first time. Your messaging might need tweaking or the content you are delivering might need some polishing. The great thing about starting small, is that there is room for testing and playing around with different messages.
Take your first step – start a Facebook page and a Twitter account. The best way to learn how to use these mediums is to see how other successful brands and indie studios are using them. If you’ve gotten this far already, take the advice of many of those quoted in this post: dedicate the time and effort to your social media presence daily. It doesn’t have to take long, just be consistent.
“Believe that everything you are doing is interesting to someone, somewhere.”
To summarize, Andrew Smith of Spilt Milk Studios points gives some marketing & pr advice in his recent post on Gamasutra:
“Your aim, broadly speaking, should be to create a group of customers who are devoted to you. Your products and brand must appeal to them, and you must make it possible for them to open up a dialogue with you. You must create the games you believe in, find the customers who also believe in them, and then encourage them to join together in a group that starts to do some of your marketing for you, and supports your endeavours with relevant feedback and opinion.”
And finally, ”Believe that everything you’re doing is interesting to someone, somewhere.” The key is figuring out why and to whom.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide to marketing. My attempt here is to start the conversation around marketing, and gather some thoughts and tips that I’ve come across from around the web, and ones that I personally believe in as marketing director for HeroEngine.
Marketing can be a complicated beast if you don’t break it down and start simple. There’s all sorts of other marketing areas we can get into from the importance of split testing, to effective social media (see the “Five Tips” below), to more practical matters such as where on the internet to promote your game.
Finally, this pitch deck template from Bubble Games Interactive, although intended for indie devs looking for funding, is a great place to start thinking through and put some structure around your public-facing “elevator pitch” or messaging, which as discussed above, is a crucial to any marketing you decide to undertake.
Written by Melina Papadopoulos, Director of Marketing for HeroEngine