To Pay or Not to Pay : Marketing for Indie Games
So let me guess… you’re an indie game developer who’s just finished their game, and have frantically begun reading article after article in developer communities to find out how to get your baby in front of adoring eyes. Amiright?
Don’t feel bad.
When it comes to indie game marketing, most developers are in the dark until they finish their game. After all, you’re a developer, not a marketer. But now you have to make some big decisions that will most certainly affect the success of your game. We’re going to try to help.
In a nutshell, it basically boils down to one thing: whether to go with free or paid marketing.
There’s no definite answer to this question. But it’s important that you know a couple things before taking the leap to join either the free or paid marketing crew. Let’s take a closer look.
Acquiring users through investing in advertising or cost per install campaigns is what paid marketing is all about. For developers who go this route, the biggest benefit is the data analytics revolution of digital advertising over the past few years. Today, just about everything can be tracked. Have a question about your users or how your ads are engaging potential users? There’s a metric for that.
There are innumerable reporting functions that can help you easily understand the progress and performance of all your ad campaigns, to make them better, stronger, faster. So is there a trick?
The formula for understanding these metrics lies in identifying three things:
- what you’re paying per user acquired,
- the average revenue per user (ARPU), and
- the average revenue per paying user (ARPPU).
The goal is to make more revenue per user than you’re spending. If you can achieve this, your campaign will bring in thousands of users even before organic users join the pack .
Sounds perfect, true. But you must have a considerable budget, and considerable understanding of complex acquisition metrics before going ahead with this plan. Smaller budgets, say, under $5000, won’t be adequate to bring a substantive return on investment. It can take as much as six-figures to get featured as the most downloaded or highest grossing game on marketplaces.
Is there a way around this? Well, if you have great KPIs, spend your time on getting a big publisher on board. Let them kick in their resources in the process.
Or if you have some budget, spend it on perfecting a kick-ass trailer with enticing graphics. Outsource the miscellaneous DIY marketing tasks. Users are lured by the quality of what they see, so spend your money on some unforgettable eye candy.
Don’t be fooled: free marketing isn’t really completely free. While it doesn’t take as much from your pockets as paid marketing does, you have to compensate that with your time. And your time does have value.
It requires A LOT of planning… you need to plan way ahead of launch, with deadlines that must be strictly followed, too. A sometimes unrecognized benefit of this is that a marketing plan will force your developers team to finish the game on strict deadlines; which of course is a very nice plus.
So if you’re up for the challenge, there are three major ways to market your game for free. They are:
- A website
- Social media and community building
Designing a Kick-Ass Website
Building a website that blows gamers away is the first step toward marketing your game for free. It is the #1 way to get your game the attention it deserves. User-experience and the WOW effect are everything. Make sure your design talks about the strengths and unique features of your game, and make it easy for visitors to get the information they need (not necessarily what YOU need), quickly. You can and should even boost your website’s usability by adding a community software and blog on the same website. Bring them there, and keep them there.
Website of upcoming game – http://www.asurathegame.com/
Before you jump in and start tweeting on a regular basis, you must have a functional website that represents the brand for your indie game. Work hard on that engaging teaser or trailer and put it front and center, so you capture the visitor’s attention the moment they hit your site.
To keep visitors glued, make sure you provide a way to subscribe to your game launch news and updates. Maintain an easy to navigate developer blog for both players and journalists to follow you. Find unique ways to connect with them. Keep your updates interesting and relevant to their lives, don’t just use it for selling. You want your users to bond with you.
Make Friends on Social Media to Build Your Community
Go to where the gamers are. Regular tweets on popular Twitter handles #gamedev, #indiedevhour or #screenshotsaturday, can help you quickly build up a following of fellow developers, influencers and players. Post your website link with all of your social content everywhere, to make sure your followers migrate into your website and blog community.
Community tools like single sign-on (SSO), are a godsend to help users seamlessly register and login to your community no matter where they’re coming from. This trick not only boosts the performance of your website, but guarantees increased user engagement.
But don’t just tweet. Similar to Twitter, there are dedicated communities of indie game developers and players on Facebook and Reddit. Keep up a strategic flow of your development blog articles, GIFs, and teaser trailers to these communities as well. And don’t just stalk. For maximum results, you must be an active member of these communities.
But be careful to stay relevant and interesting! Do not over-promote or abuse the community guidelines if you want to make the most of your marketing efforts.
Do Your Outreach Research
Too often overlooked, one of the most effective marketing activities you can do by yourself is outreach. It involves identifying the right publications, blogs, YouTube channels and Twitch influencers that would be highly relevant to your game. After identifying these people, you must build a conversational relationship with them on social media (preferred) or by direct email outreach.
Work hard on your first email pitch, and provide all the necessary information about your game including few screenshots or a gameplay video. Make your language friendly, not sales-y. Talk about the benefits to them, not to you. Once you see some interest, offer them further updates or some exclusive content or review copies when the time is right.
Outreach sounds simple at the surface but can be complex to execute. But practice makes perfect. Go through this old but still very relevant post by Gamasutra about Do’s and Don’ts of reaching out to gaming media.
You should now have a pretty clear idea of how paid and free marketing work, and be better informed on which route is best for you. Think big. There are countless examples on the web of indie developers who spent nothing other than some quality time planning their marketing and achieved extraordinarily impressive results. But whether you decide to go the free or paid way, with small investments in outsourcing graphics, trailer and outreach, you can surely amplify the results of your marketing.