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How NOT to market your indie game
by Dushan Chaciej on 11/07/13 07:39:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

There’s so many of those ‘How to market your indie game’ articles written by more or less successful developers that I decided to write about this from a different angle. From the angle of someone who failed at marketing. My angle.

I have a long record of failing at marketing and PR and you can easily check that by looking at my name/nick and not recognizing it. Thus you can trust me on what I’m going to say.

no-faxing-payday-loans

Warning: the following list might be filled with things so stupid that you wouldn’t ever imagine doing them, and yet I did all of them at some point, often multiple times. If that’s the case you can as well just make fun of me since you’re already here.

  • Don’t accidentally forget to put the links to your website, Facebook and Twitter under anything you post about your game.
  • Don’t post detailed stuff about your game that only the most eager fans would be interested in. Especially when your game isn't finished yet and doesn't have any fans.

Like this very post we’ve posted a few days ago. Who the fuck could care about the backstory of one of the political parties in one of the playable races in our game that no one knows about?

  • Don’t casually accost random editors that never heard of you on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Don’t fill your email’s title with tons of buzzwords.

(Steam-punk MMORPG with a vast world to explore and innovative storyline, also a spiritual successor to XXX)

Despite the amount of words it actually doesn’t say anything about your game.

  • The same goes for Reddit posts.
  • Don’t release the screenshots that you took 5 days into the development, they will stay in the Internet forever and haunt you. (Press posting about your game and using a year-old screenshot as a news header would be the best example)
  • Don’t try to be funny if it doesn’t come to you naturally. It’s the most pathetic thing ever.
  • Don’t send a press release to 20 editors, putting their email addresses in ‘To:’ instead of ‘Bcc:’.
  • In fact don’t send a press release to 20 editors at all! Send each of your emails separately, with some consideration as to who you're talking to.

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  • Don’t believe them when they say that the press wants to write about your game.
  • You have to do EVERYTHING that is in your power to make yourself and your game look outstanding in the crowd of other developers and their games.
  • Don’t post your updates in the middle of the night. Do your research on when’s the best time to post. Facebook’s added a cool feature recently that lets you check the hourly activity of your fans.
  • Don’t wait with spamming the press until your game is released. Email them right now. They need to know about the awesome project you’re working on, even if they don’t reply or post about it on teh websitez.
  • Don’t send an email titled “We’re making a game, it’ll be fun”. They’re not gonna make a story about it. They’re not gonna post about it. Unless you’re Notch, ofc.
  • Don’t ask reviewers if they want a review copy of your game. Throw it at their faces. They weren’t gonna buy it anyways.
  • Don’t visit Twitter and forums only to post an update on your game’s development. If you’re not a part of a particular community, it’s better to not spam there at all. (Some may not agree with this, but IMO it’s kind of a scumbag move.)
  • Don’t miss on #screenshotsaturday.
  • Don’t hate everyone that is more successful than you. It's not good for your health. There’s simply too many of them.
  • Don’t use your blog as a weekly list of all the sprites you did in the past days and all the little bugs you’ve fixed. No one cares about that. Don’t bore people to death for deciding to read your stuff.
  • Don’t play the ‘Top-secret project’ game! If you don’t show how cool your game is, then no one will know how cool your game is. Unless you’re already a successful developer, but then you wouldn't be reading this, right?

If you don’t reveal your secret ultimate feature then no one’s gonna know about it. Dang, even if you reveal it most likely no one’s gonna know about it.

  • Don’t use ‘6 playable characters’ and ’20 enemies to kill’ as your key features. Trust me on this one.

Google ‘USP’ and think harder.

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  • Don’t trust yourself on how good your gameplay is. Your opinion is ultimately biased.
  • Don’t make a game similar to a well-known hit if you can’t make yours better. People would rather just play the original.
  • Don’t skip on the pre-production phase, and don’t skip on thinking of your target group of players. (There has to be one!)
  • Look at your game! And I mean: look at it like you’re looking at other games. Make your friends look at it. Make strangers look at it. Don’t say anything more than what you have on your website/in your posts. Accept their feedback with gratitude.  Change the way you’re presenting your game when you still have time for that.
  • Even if you’re making an awesome, innovative and original game in an entirely new genre, it may still look generic in your presentation, or in the way you’re describing it. Think about that.
  • Don’t try to make a game for both casual and hardcore players.
  • Don’t make the art in your game look inconsistent. It’s better to have bad but consistent art than a few good  pixel-art assets mixed with good 3d renders, and so on.
  • Don’t skip on polishing the game!
  • Don’t insist on adding more content instead of polishing what you already have in the game.
  • Don’t have your website look like shit.
  • Don’t have your Facebook fanpage outdated and looking like shit.
  • Don’t expect people to think too much! They don’t find your game worthy of such a drag. Make everything obvious and in front of their very eyeballz.
  • Don’t be a dick if no one plays your game. It sucks. Deal with it.

Cash-Pile

I hope that helps : )

Now get back to working on your game! Don’t waste your time on reading articles like this one. It’s not like you’re gonna believe anything that someone else says, before you make the same mistakes as them. At least that’s my case. And yes, I've read thousands of those articles.

In case you would like to see more of my epic failures with your own eyes then you ought to follow me on Twitter.

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And if you like games that you find awesome you should follow my game’s fanpage on Facebook, it’ll exceed your expectations.

 


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Comments


Lance Thornblad
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This gave me a chuckle or two. Nicely done!

Nicholas Larimer
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Saw this article a while back on GameDev.net. Great read. Very entertaining, too.

Lance McKee
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Yeah this was a lot of good advice given in a very fun way - thanks!

Dane MacMahon
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"Donít visit Twitter and forums only to post an update on your gameís development. If youíre not a part of a particular community, itís better to not spam there at all. (Some may not agree with this, but IMO itís kind of a scumbag move.)"

I've seen this done really well, mostly in niche circles. If you're making an indie RPG on the PC for example you would be an absolute idiot not to post on RPG Codex and RPG Watch. Now, you have to do it the right way of course... don't take responses too seriously, don't answer questions that make you uncomfortable, ignore piracy talk, etc... but those communities can sell a LOT of copies of your game.

Johan Toresson
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Also don't just be a blaring megaphone - if you actually come there not only to go "HERE GAEM PLAY OMG" but rather contribute to the community, discuss other things than your own game and behave like an actual human being on a forum you just might get another response.

Alfa Etizado
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Here are a few things that always put me off when I'm trying to get to know a new game, specially through greenlight:

Trailers that don't cut to the point. There are too many trailers that start with things like walls of text explaining the backstory, concept art, self hyping... like it VERY briefly shows something interesting and then it cuts to black screen and white text with something that sounds like it came from a movie trailer, story stuff, like, anything at all that isn't the best thing about the game.

Way too many trailers do that. And I'm super impatient. For me 6 seconds of the game's logo is already too much. I'm super impatient because there are tons of other games I want to see, and aside from games there are TONS of other things to do on the Internet.

Just imagine, I just posted a long winded reply to a ridiculously long Internet argument I've been engaged in the past few hours, I decide to do something while there isn't a reply. I'm just itching to check that argument, my attention spam is almost zero and then I decide to check Greenlight and it takes almost a minute before the trailer get somewhere.

A good trailer catches my attention in 5 seconds, and now I'll remember the game if I liked what I saw. Here's the trailer to Noitu Love 2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysO4YfKM1E0

Eight seconds in and everything's exploding.

A trailer to Mercenary Kings
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49Nxr4Q8QTk

Eight seconds in and I thought "Hey, I like Metal Slug, maybe I will like this".

The trailer to Interference
http://youtu.be/A5eB5PUXTvA

18 seconds before gameplay. That's not bad but 8 seconds is better. Still, what I see in those 18 seconds is not the most relevant thing the game has to show. It starts to get interesting a few seconds later. The most distinguishing features of the game don't show until 50 seconds.

Trailer for Voidwalker
http://youtu.be/0o-I9UN8Mdo

Almost 50 seconds before actual gameplay is shown.

Just remember that on the Internet, when someone links you a 5 min. youtube video you think that's too long. Five minutes is how long you take to take the elevator down and leave your apartment. On the Internet 5 minutes is long. In fact this entire post is a good example of what not to do, too long.

Anyway the other thing that really puts me off and prevents me from even checking a game's trailer on greenlight is when the hover text description, the one that shows up when I rest the mouse arrow on the game's thumbnail, well, when the description says nothing about the game.

For an instance, a description that starts with "In the ancient lands of the wandering ladies, a baby is born from the shadow of a tree..." or "I want to thank everyone for their support, we are finishing the new version and will release it soon...". When I see that, sometimes I don't even click on the game. I want to read "This game does this and that".

James Yee
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DOUBLE this for Kickstarter videos too. No powerpoint slide reading either! UGH! O.O!

Andy Lundell
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Yes!

If your trailer has run 10 seconds and I can't tell what genre of gameplay it is, then your trailer is a total failure. I won't watch the 11th second.

Don't try to build suspense. Unless this is a highly anticipated product that I already want, it doesn't work.

There's no mystery because I don't care. You're just creating a lack of information, not a mystery.

Johan Toresson
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Good stuff, and a fun read! Good luck in the future - and I hope that you've learned from your mistakes. ;)

Curtiss Murphy
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"Donít insist on adding more content instead of polishing what you already have in the game."

Smaller products, with polish. 'nuff said.

Troy Walker
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I like learning from others mistakes... and appreciate the post!

Christopher Cheasty
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"Donít make the art in your game look inconsistent. Itís better to have bad but consistent art than a few good pixel-art assets mixed with good 3d renders, and so on."

Yes! Thank you! So many indies learn this the hard way, myself included. Three things I would add for indie developers with little-to-no art background (mostly relevant for pixel art):

1. Pay attention to shadows. Your game world has shadows right? Great. Oh wait, you say there aren't shadows? That's fine too. Just pick one. It's incredibly jarring when some objects cast shadows and others don't. Be mindful of your light sources too. Face your shadows in the same direction unless you've committed to realistic lighting in every map.

2. Decide when, if ever, your world uses outlines. Maybe character sprites are outlined in black while everything else blends into the environment. Maybe every kind of sprite--from monsters, to rocks, to trees--has a dark blue outline. Or maybe there is no barrier between your sprite's red, bloodstained sword and the green grass underneath. Just keep it consistent so it doesn't look like a bad Photoshop assignment.

3. Don't accidentally camouflage your sprites by using the same color palette for everything (especially if the game has a top-down perspective). In other words, if the action takes place in a black-and-grey citiscape, don't dress the characters in black and grey. Your world will look unnaturally flat, and worse, the player will have a hard time reading what's on screen. Drawing sprites and backgrounds at the same time can help avoid this problem. Even if your game looks like Dragon Quest 1, you can avoid the "ugly" factor by making your sprites pop.

Andre Noller
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Great read!

Seems like you've got it now! :D

Hussain Patel
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These tips are good at pushing me towards a general attitude towards the whole marketing side:

1. Be interesting (to the target audience, not yourself!)
2. Look cool quickly (people in general can get bored really easily)

I'm a student so hosting a full blown website that looks approachable is difficult (I am still first year and just adjusting to the workload). But I imagine it's time consuming!

I've not really had a chance to look at the RPG game forums that were mentioned in the comments a bit before but I was wondering if there were facilities like that for indie developers? I saw something similar to that on the Ludum Dare forums but I think that was only for people developing for the Ludum Dare stuff.

TLDR - Is there a forum or site that can host information about indie games in progress?

Dushan Chaciej
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tigsource.com :)

Denver Coulson
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There are plenty of sites that can do this (SlideDB, IndieDB, Tigsource as Dushan mentioned, even a Facebook Page) but it's always good to have a "home base." I know Ska Studios started with a simple Wordpress and just kept building on it.

The hard part isn't getting the site, it's making time to post on it. As a finishing college student, I can tell you it's rough.

Josh Sutphin
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Your point about USP is kinda buried in all that, but it's maybe the most important thing you said. In my AAA experience, nailing the USP was *crucial*. Like, absolutely priority number one.

Seriously, people: figure out your USP, and build your entire game and your entire marketing strategy around it. Your USP is the soul of your game.

Dushan Chaciej
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Couldn't agree more, this is so important to figure out early.

That's the number one reason why marketing doesn't work - no clear USP.

Martin Grider
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WTF is USP? Not so useful to google something when you don't know what you're looking for. (I did google it while reading the article, saw nothing that appeared immediately relevant, and closed the search.)

I'm assuming it's this: "Unique Selling Proposition". This link http://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/unique-selling-propositi
on-usp defines it as "The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition". That is good advice, and definitely something I haven't really thought about before in regards to marketing. (I think about it all the time in regards to design though.)

Thanks for commenting on this and getting me to google a second time.

Matt Marshall
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Excellent read. Straight to the point too!

Tony Zadravec
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Thanks for Article. I am comfortable writing games, but this whole marketing thing is very scary. I am afraid I would have made many of the mistakes you made. But thanks to you, I can avoid them.


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