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Grassroots marketing for your indie game

Grassroots marketing for your indie game

November 3, 2014 | By Kris Graft

When it comes to grassroots marketing your indie game, there's no one correct way that works for everyone.

But at GDC Next today, three successful indie game developers offered up tips on what has worked for them.

The main message was that marketing for a game needs to be true to the game and to the developer. That means know what makes your game interesting, and make that explicitly clear in the marketing.

Zach Gage, creator of the mobile game hit SpellTower, acknowledges that the best way to try to get people interested in, and buy, your game, is to get it in front of as many people as possible. For some developers, this means taking your game to a lot of conferences, travelling the world and putting it in players' hands.

Gage said that's not how he wants to spend his time. Instead, he made the game a marketing tool itself, thinking of ways a game’s design and appearance might compel people to recommend his game to others. He said SpellTower had this quality " a person brings it home to Thanksgiving with friends and family, for example, they see the game, and people exposed to the game are converted into buyers. The game itself looks interesting, it's easy to understand, so the players then become marketers.

For Rami Ismail of Luftrausers, Nuclear Throne, and Ridiculous Fishing developer Vlambeer, successful marketing is not just about marketing each game " it’s about marketing the studio, in Ismail’s case Vlambeer, and its style of arcade-styled games. People know what to expect when they see a game comes from Vlambeer, and if you find arcade games interesting, there's a good chance you'll find Vlambeer's offerings worthy purchases.

The developers on the panel were cautious about presenting their marketing approaches as templates that should be copied. Again, marketing approaches will vary depending on the game and the developer.

Gage warned that coming up with business and marketing plans is quite difficult -- that's something that took him a long time to realize. “Business plans are as complicated as games," he said. "And when you see someone’s game you like, you copy it, and you end up with a shitty version of that game. And when you see someone’s business plan and you copy it, you end up with a shitty version of that business plan.”

Ismail added, “You don’t have to treat [marketing] very differently from [the way you make] your game." Marketing in many ways is an extension of your game. "Whatever you do, figure out what you are," said Ismail. Understand that, and then communicate that to players.

Sometimes, what makes your game interesting might be the awards that you've won, or positive press it has received. "I don't understand why someone would be too shy to put laurels on their website!" said Ismail. "… Please don't be afraid to be proud of your game. That's not the same as arrogance."

Adam Saltsman, developer of games including Hundreds and Canabalt, said, "You need to know what's neat about your game. That sounds super condescending and obvious, but I've worked on a lot of things where I misunderstood, even when it was almost done, what was interesting about it. … [Your] goal is to make it easy for people to tell other people how cool your thing is."

You can catch up on Gamasutra's GDC Next coverage all in one location. GDC and Gamasutra are sibling organizations under parent UBM Tech.

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