Indie games have become a large part of the mainstream gaming industry. In his interview with IGN, Phil Spencer from Xbox predicts, that the term ‘indie’ won’t be relevant much longer when describing games; they will just be games. This steady growth holds a lot of promise for developers unless they are missing out on effective marketing due to the inadequacy of funds.
I – like many game marketers – have boasted about the concept of $0 DIY (Do It Yourself) Game Marketing. But how feasible is this for Indies? And if you even have a little budget, where and how should you spend it? – Let’s find out!
1. Promotional Media
Unless you have compelling packaging, selling anything is tough. The same applies to digital games, except that the packaging is now replaced with visual graphics, screen shots, web banners, featured images, and engaging videos.
If you’re producing a game that has high-end visuals, you must start early to work with the artists already working on your game. They will be happy to provide the promotional media once you provide them the necessary guidelines and references. If, however, your game’s graphics aren’t alluring enough, you must seek some external assistance in getting the right creative materials.
Some developers I know managed to find talented artists willing to help for free or for a small fee on places DeviantArt. But whether you use DeviantArt or some other resource, make sure to use an artist that matches the genre of your game and with reputable portfolios. If you’ve got a little extra cash to spend, you can try one of many freelance services like Twine.
Note that graphics sell everything. If they are not the best quality, you risk wasting any other efforts in PR and promotion of your game. When it comes to graphics, don’t be satisfied with little efforts, or sloppy work, and take as many revisions as possible until you have the desired results to use with your promotional media. Start as early as you start developing your game, so you will have enough time to try out all variations of the graphics.
Expected expense is less than $100 USD for promotional graphics.
2. Press Release Distribution
Building a buzz prior to launch doesn’t have to be expensive. But if you are an indie team of one or two, it will consume a considerable amount of time. Planning media outreach, writing/editing press releases, building a list of influencers and reaching out to and following-up with them; could be handled with the Do-It-Yourself approach. But like planning your game’s graphics, this has to be done ahead of time and planned out months before you expect to launch.
Make sure you identify and connect with the right publications, blogs, YouTube channels and relevant media house representatives ahead of time. Establish rapport with them so that they can help you get the word out in due time. You can connect with them on social media or at events – which is even better as you are meeting them face-to-face.
You can, and should handle all the social media and email newsletter aspects yourself, while you can get experienced freelancers to write the press releases for you.
Important Tip – Don’t waste your money on paid press release distribution to generic services that cover every topic. Personalized emails remain the most relevant and appreciated approach by media professionals.
Expected expense is less than $50 USD for 3 to 4 high-quality press releases.
3. Community Building and Promotion
Another excellent method of free promotion for indie developers is through online communities. Before starting your own games’ community, look at what other successful Indies in your genre have done that’s worked well for them. Once you get the feel of how to organize and communicate with your potential gamers, you can start to build and manage your own game community even as you make use of these best tips for building online communities.
In terms of feasibility, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive to start creating an online game community. But once your community starts growing, it’s better to invest in the right tools, and possibly have one of your team members work as the full-time community manager. One interesting insight on community building, as shared by Jussi Tähtinen, is to think of Players as “prosumers”.
This fact will help you turn your community members into not just fans of your game, but potential marketers. This is especially true of your most loyal community members. Making beta access or steam keys available to them can be a great way to provide value to them without needing to endure additional expense.
Expected expense is zero unless you have a rapidly growing community.
4. Social Media
Most indies looking to market their games get the worst ROI (return on investment) by using social media, as it is usually the worst-planned marketing activity they execute. Follow the popular hashtags on Twitter like #gamedev to see which posts are making a buzz and why. See if you can create a GIF or images like them to create a corresponding buzz that connects to your game.
During the launch, I recommend that you use some paid Twitter activities from popular accounts for a week. As these accounts are proficient at building interest, they can do some regular social posting throughout the week; generating better results than what your efforts can get.
Expected expense is less than $40 USD per week to create buzz.
With a little effort and great strategies, you can execute an effective marketing campaign for your indie game, even with a $0 budget. You may have to sacrifice some quality productivity time during the development process to do so, unless you plan everything out perfectly the first time.
As you may have guessed, with a realistic budget of less than $300 USD – if you decide to invest cash in marketing your game - you can leverage your funds on affordable professionals to get the best results. If you have more money to spare, you can also spend it on premium quality graphics and creating captivating movie trailer quality videos.