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Community Building: From Social Pauper to….um….Social Squire!

by Justin French on 09/08/15 01:36:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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

 

Introduction

Afternoon / evening / good morning everyone,

This week I’m going to talk a bit about community building and marketing. Specifically the struggles that we have gone through in building our community with Failure, the tools we’ve used and how we went from knowing almost nothing about marketing to knowing….well, enough to get started on the right path to building our community.

Quick disclaimer – I am not a marketing person, I’ve just taken on the role for the studio for the past couple of weeks, I’m actually the Creative Director and usually spend most of my time designing game play systems, directing our artists, working on audio and managing the rest of the team, but due to being the only full time member of Dream Harvest the responsibility seemed to fall onto my shoulders. I hope that this blog post shines a light on how you can go from knowing almost nothing about promoting and marketing your studio and game to being at least a bit clued up about ways to approach it.

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Why Build a Community Before Release?

Building a community around an indie game and a studio that hasn’t previously  published anything is hard. In fact it’s akin to me trying to sell you something that hasn’t been invented yet, promising that it will be the next big thing and that you should trust me and help me promote it to all your friends – but all you’ve got is my word, my passion and my honesty – and if you don’t know me then what is my word actually worth to you?

This is an issue that many indie devs come across while trying to build and market their games. We often have no budget to begin with and leaves almost nothing to put into marketing. But you’ll soon realize that it’s crucial to the success of our games.

Professional marketing people say that you should be going for something like the 80/20  or 70/30 split in which 80%/70% of all the work you do for a game is the development process and 20/30% is marketing.

But unless you’ve got someone dedicated to the role it becomes increasingly difficult to spend time on social media, writing newsletters, blogs and other material in order to shine a light on the games that we’re trying to make and attempt to create a community of fans that engage with the content that we release. But it has to be done, its fundamental and in many ways just as important as the quality of the games that we’re creating. Its been seen time and time again; a shit game with a great marketing campaign still ends up selling well (albeit with shit reviews and pissed off consumers – Thank god for Steam Refunds), but what about a great game, something highly polished and original in it’s stylization and mechanics and most importantly fun – what happens if this game hasn’t had any marketing put behind it? Well it might be one of the lucky few that have still ended up with success, but this is really rare. More than likely all your time an effort will have gone to waste, you’ll have a flop on your hands and you’ll end up feeling even more resentment for the other games that, in your mind are no way as cool as yours, all because they spent time marketing their game.

If we want people  queuing up for our games we need to create compelling content and by god market it as much as we can. In this post I’ll be showing what we’ve been doing to promote our studio and game and share some of the tools we’ve been using.

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Tools to help build a Community:

There are loads of tools out there to help you get the word out about your games and studio. Here are some of the ones we’ve been using here at Dream Harvest.

Thunderclap

I’ve only recently discovered Thunderclap and its a pretty nice platform somewhat similar to traditional crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter. The biggest difference is that users don’t pledge money towards a project but instead pledge support on either Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. The idea being that at the end of your campaign, as long as you have reached you quota (In our case our latest Thunderclap requires 100 people to pledge their support) a customized message will be blasted across all the accounts of the people that supported. Thunderclap offers a free service and there are several paid extras, the first of which is well worth it as it gives you the chance to extend your campaign beyond the end date in case you dont reach your target and also allows you to edit your original campaign while it is running and post updates throughout. Overall its a pretty cool platform as long as you get the right people supporting you.

CoPromote

I started playing around with CoPromote last week. It’s an interesting platform that asks it’s uses to “co-promote” each others content. With the free account you can choose a recent tweet or post from one of your social accounts to promote where it will be fed into the feed of other people using the platform based on the industry the promotion is from. One of the issues with this platform, however, is that the quality of posts within the gaming channel is pretty low, mainly swamped with aspiring streamers or spam posts trying to get more people looking at their channel. I actually still haven’t come across any content from other game studios on there. This does mean that there is ample space for studios to push their products and potentially build a community through the platform which is a good thing – the only issue though is that in order to get your posts promoted you will need to promote other peoples posts, And I’m not entirely happy promoting crap on our twitter feed.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a tool that allows you to control all of your social accounts from a single interface. It has a really cool interface that is completely customizable where you can see all of your social feeds on one page. What’s great about the platform is that you can schedule posts and multi-post across Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+ and more all at the same time. We paid for a year licence so we could add all of our social accounts across the team as well as have two of us look after the account, but even the free version allows up to 3 social accounts. There’s also a little applet that you can install to your browser making it really easy to post anything that you highlight straight to any of your social accounts. And the analytics are pretty handy too.

Crowdfire

Another very handy social tool for tracking new followers across your social accounts. Specifically its really good for getting rid of those annoying people who follow you and then un-follow you as soon as you follow them back (why do people do this, its really annoying!). The free account is limited to just 1 social account annoyingly so we just use it for the main Dream Harvest Twitter account, but it’s been invaluable in growing our network effectively.

PressKit()

If your an indie game developer and you dont know about PressKit then you have some serous catching up to do. PressKit was developed by Rami at Vlambeer to help indies create a special webpage specifically for press where all the information they would need, including images and videos and a link to download a press copy of your game could be found. Although the sites that it produces look a bit crap and set-up isn’t the easiest thing in the world its well worth setting this up for both your studio and your game. I’ve seen some indie studios take it a step further and completely change the way these press kit pages look in order to look closer to their own branding. It’ll take about an hour or two to get set-up but its well worth the trouble.

Promoterapp

Promoter is a great tool for tracking press mentions across all major publications as well as tracking and managing press copy request. It integrates with PressKit() and is a great little tool. There’s also a handy Games Industry Festival calender that shows you all the submission deadlines for indie game competitions around the globe. You’ll need to subscribe to this eventually but the free account is fine up until you start trying to contact press.

Looking at how we’ve done it at Dream Harvest

Now, I’m in no way an expert on game marketing. What I’m hoping to do by sharing what we’ve done is hopefully expose to you some of the things that we’ve done and explain the success and failures we’ve had using these tools and platforms. What I would love to know, from those of you that have done similar things, how successful were you with these and how have you gone about building your communities?

Final Monster Logo Web Small

Studio Specific Sites:

Studio Website and Blog: Dream Harvest Website and Blog

Our website is something we try to update on a weekly / bi weekly basis, mainly through our blog posts which range in subject from development blogs about Failure to our thoughts on the industry, random posts about nothing (Milcho one of my programmers has a habit of writing these), game dev technology reviews or run downs and learning sessions, so a real mixture. I choose a particular team member to write these on a weekly basis as I feel it’s nice to get the perspective from each person on the team. We’ve driven some good traffic to our site with July seeing around 1200 Unique visitors. Our average is around 300-400 visitors a month which we could do with improving but isn’t too bad considering the type of content on there. The website could also probably do with being redesigned as it takes a little while to load on slower internet speeds. Blogs are posted to twitter and promoted throughout the week after release which see’s traffic to the site trail off towards the end of a week if released on a previous Friday. For the past two weeks since being a lot more active the tail off hasn’t been as dramatic and we seem to be getting constant traffic throughout the week of just under 15 visitors a day but these visitors seem to be exploring the site and reading several of the blogs as well as checking out other pages on the site.

PressKit(): Dream Harvest Press Kit

This is something that we setup quite early on and I try to update it whenever we have new content we want to show off in the hope that some press will take a look. Its something we’re going to be pushing to press outlets over the coming months and contains all the inforamtion someone from the press would ever need if they want to know about our studio history, who’s in the team, any awards we’ve won and what other members of the press are saying about us. Oh, and they can request a press copy of the game right from the page. This page is pretty much essential to any indie studio, if you don’t have one make one asap (Look in the Tools section below).

Twitter: Dream Harvest Twitter Page

We’ve been active on twitter trying to mix up our posts with not just our content but the content of other creators in the indie scene and beyond. We try to stick to the two hashtag rule to push engagement and when possible we try to include an image, gif or video with each post. We also have personal accounts that we try to push from. Though as far as I know my account is the only one linking back to the Dream Harvest Account on the team. In the last week I’ve grown the account from 370 Followers to 410 mainly from being much more active than usual. I make use of Hootsuite and Crowdfire in order to measure engagement, remove non-followers, get a general idea of our growth and tweet out things to selected accounts. Twitter seems to be the best platform to drive traffic to other places and is the easiest to use, but I’ve found that you need to be really active on it to get anything out of it.

Facebook: Dream Harvest Facebook Page

Facebook engagement seems a bit harder and we’ve struggled to build an organic following on there. I’ve boosted a couple of posts through Facebook ads in the past, paying between £7 – £35 for different campaigns which lead to more followers on the page (though how many of them are real follows?) but saw very little engagement with the links within the boosted posts (less than 1%). Posts that are sent through Hootsuite to twitter are often posted to our Facebook page as well and I occasionally post separate messages to the FB page. We’ve joined several very helpful groups on FB one of which is Indie Game M.E.D.S who also have their own Slack Group which we’ve also joined. The people in that group have been quite helpful with retweeting things and pushing our Thunderclap. Other groups include Indie Game Promo and Indie Game Devs, but both haven’t been that great in supporting us – perhaps I haven’t released the right content to those groups yet. I’m looking into joining some more to see how helpful they might be. Though I’ve struggled to find groups that are RTS game specific that have enough members to be worthwhile.

Google+: Dream Harvest Google+

Google+ is another one we’ve struggled to get much traffic to and from. We have our YouTube Channel linked and once again we post things via Hootsuite that usually get posted to our Twitter here as well. We don’t usually write anything unique for Google+ as we’ve not seen much engagement from the community here.

Youtube: Dream Harvest Youtube Channel

We don’t really push the channel the videos on it are part of other efforts to get exposure. Mainly used as somewhere to store our videos.

Twitch: Dream Harvest Twitch Channel

We’re just about to start live streaming Failure starting on Wednesday September 9th. We’ve decided that we’re going to be weekly streams every Wednesday but try to mix up the content. So some weeks we’ll be streaming the gameplay, other days we’ll be streaming other peoples games and each of my team members will also be streaming themselves doing Art, programming, music production and sound design among other things. We also have plans for QA sessions but this is something that we’re going to need a following for. Other than the planned weekly streams I’m going to be doing some random ones throughout the week.

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Game Specific Sites:

These are the sites and other dedicated things for our game Failure. I’ve been trying to keep them all updated and its hard to come up with content for each that’s original for each platform, but different people enjoy consuming content in different ways so we’ve been trying to accommodate that through the following.

Game Website: Failure Website

This website is in the process of being updated to include all the new info about the game. It’s been the way it is for quite a while and I don’t have any traffic stats for it as it’s not done in WordPress like our main site. Once it’s updated it will be the main source of new information about the game.

Newsletter: Failure Newsletter

We launched our new newsletter on Monday 1st September. I got the idea behind doing a newsletter that would focus purely on our game while chatting to Tanya Short, the Creative Director at Kitfox Games, about building a community in the run up to a Kickstarter Campaign. She mentioned that they had around 800 sign ups before going ahead with their campaign for their game Moon Hunters, though they had a previous community with their other game Shattered Planet which easily converted over to their new fan base for their second title. We’ve decided to release these on a bi-weekly basis and shift the normal blog posts to bi-weekly too. We’ve got 11 sign ups so far and are trying to drive sign ups through the use of Thunderclap and general promotion of the newsletter through all other channels.  We’re hoping to offer exclusive content for newsletter subscribers but in these early days with so few sign ups its hard to keep the content exclusive and we’re having to use the content from the first one to promote it.

PressKit(): Failure Press Kit

Same as the studio one but specific to our game Failure. Has some recent screenshots and videos as well as all the info that a member of the press might want about the game. Will be pushing this page over the coming months in the run up to our Kickstarter.

Reddit: Failure SubReddit

This is our sub Reddit for the game. We haven’t seen that many people engage with the posts on here unfortunately but hopefully once people start playing the game this will be a go-to place for people to discuss the game and the systems that we’ve designed. We’ve had more luck with pushing traffic from Reddit to our other network by being active on other peoples posts. Though we need to be careful on Reddit as it’s easy to get banned for posting too many self-promotion posts. There’s so many subreddits and posts on here its often quite hard to work out where to go to get the best engagement.

Steam Greenlight Concepts: Failure Game Page

This was one of the first pages we setup and thought that it would be an interesting way to judge interest in the concept for the game when we first started working on the project. Its updated monthly with new images and videos as well as updates when there is something major to talk about. We’ve currently sitting at a 95% approval rating though the number of unique visitors to the page is only at 200 after 174 days of being on there with the majority of visitors hitting the page in the first couple of weeks when we were still in the top 10. Its low effort keeping the page updated and gives us a presence on Steam before we decide to run the proper Greenlight campaign and we think it’s worth the additional work having a page that we can direct people to within Steam.

Playfield.io: Failure Game Page

This is an indie game promotion platform that uses Twitter image posts to generate profiles for games which you can then claim if you are the developer. Once claimed you can build up the profile to contain more information and links to where the game can be purchased or more information can be found. To get into the top posts you need to use particular trending hashtags and then people must comment or vote on the images or otherwise engage with them. We drove quite a bit of traffic to the site in the run up to Gamescom as Playfield were running a competition to win booth space and have your trailer shown off at their booth as part of a show reel. We ended up coming 6th and got to be part of the show reel by placing in the top 10. Since this we’ve not been using it so much but I’m about to update our profile and start using it again as it’s a pretty cool platform.

IndieDB: Failure Game Page

This is something I haven’t been updating recently and I probably should, but it’s got a terrible interface and is a pain to make look nice. The last update on this site was 5 months ago so really overdue a proper update…in fact I’m going to do that right after I finish writing this blog post. Visits to the IndieDB page have been low at just 176 in the time it’s been up. It’s not a page I push through other channels. I’d be interested in knowing what your thoughts are on IndieDB and it’s use as a tool to build a community.

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In Closing

Anyway, that’s it…well there are a couple of other things I’m trying out but not worth writing about. Have any of you got alternative tools that I’ve missed out? Are there any other social networks we should be pushing towards? How have you built your communities and retained them?

If you enjoyed this post and if it’s been at all helpful is there any chance you could help us by supporting our Thunderclap by going here and pledging your support across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

Thanks for reading and until next time.

Justin French

Creative Director

Dream Harvest


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